Latest studies show acupuncture is recommended over drugs for back pain
Low back pain is an epidemic in the United States, with most Americans having reporting low back pain at some point. It is one of the most common reasons Americans visit a doctor. In fact, the cost of low back pain in terms of health care and missed work or lower productivity was estimated to be $100 billion in 2006.
Starting in the late 90s, doctors often prescribed opioid medications to treat both chronic and acute low-back pain. But the medical community now acknowledges the addictive risk of opioid pain medications, which can lead to heroin addiction. Opioid pain medication provides a similar high, but is easier and cheaper to obtain. “Of those [people entering treatment for heroin addiction] who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Luckily, the medical community is now starting to see the benefits of nondrug therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and spinal manipulation. A new set of clinical practice guidelines released by the Annals of Internal Medicine on February 14, 2017, based on a review of more than 150 studies, has broken the treatment of low-back pain down into three general areas based on whether it is acute or chronic. Acute back pain lasts less than 4 weeks and often resolves on its own.
Recommendations from the Annals of Internal Medicine
- For patients with acute low back pain, which generally improves over time regardless of treatment, doctors should recommend “superficial heat, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation”. If drugs are desired, doctors should prescribe either nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or skeletal muscle relaxants.
- For patients with chronic low back pain, doctors should try acupuncture, exercise, spinal manipulation, and other nondrug treatments.
- For patients with chronic low back pain who don’t respond to nondrug treatments adequately, doctors should start with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs first. Tramadol or duloxetine should be considered second. The recommendation says, “Clinicians should only consider opioids as an option in patients who have failed the aforementioned treatments and only if the potential benefits outweigh the risks for individual patients and after a discussion of known risks and realistic benefits with patients.”
Acupuncture for Acute Back Pain
Back pain is predominantly due to trauma or overuse. Trauma to soft tissues, including ligaments, tendons, and muscles are generally the result of falls, blows, sprains/strains, collisions, compressions, crushing, and disruptions of the healing processes due to inflammation. Acupuncture can be used during any phase of the injury healing process.
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine may be used to help:
- decrease swelling
- stop spasms
- reduce inflammation
- manage pain
- increase range of motion
- promote healing
There is evidence that acupuncture can aid healing and resolution of injuries, including reducing pain, increasing local microcirculation and attracting white blood cells to the area, both of which speed the healing rate, and aid dispersal of swelling and bruising.
The focus is not only to treat the injury but also to treat any underlying conditions that may predispose an individual to injuries. This is especially important when treating chronic or recurrent injuries that interfere with life activities. Getting help from acupuncture helps to keep acute back pain from becoming chronic.
Acupuncture for Chronic Back Pain
Studies have shown that acupuncture is very effective for the majority of people with chronic low back pain. To treat back pain, your acupuncturist will insert extremely fine needles into the skin at specific points along meridians. Patients have reported a significant reduction in pain with acupuncture, especially when paired with Chinese herbs. Certainly, these new guidelines show that doctors now agree: Acupuncture is very unlikely to cause any harm and may improve back pain.
If you would like to try acupuncture to relieve your low back pain, make an appointment today. A custom-tailored treatment plan will be created in partnership with you to help you feel better quickly and safely!