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Stick a needle in your back

May 11, 2009 |  6:03 pm

Acupuncture Some back pain sufferers will try almost anything in their quest for relief, but acupuncture, that's not so far-fetched. Research and enthusiastically retold anecdotes have suggested that this traditional (or alternative, depending on your perspective) form of medicine  could help. So...

More than 600 adults with chronic low back pain agreed to get one of the following:

* individualized acupuncture -- using person-specific needling sites, number of needles, depth of insertion and the like;

* standardized acupuncture -- using 8 points found effective in treating low back pain;

* simulated acupuncture -- involving a toothpick and some skillful handling;

* routine care  -- think medications and physical therapy.

And ... acupuncture works!

Like a charm. Those getting individualized, standard -- and, this is the thing, fake -- acupuncture treatments all were more likely to report improvements in their ability to function than were those in the standard-care group.

The study was published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The researchers, at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle and Northern California Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, concluded: "It remains unclear whether acupuncture or our simulated method of acupuncture provide physiologically important stimulation or represent placebo or nonspecific effects."

That is to say: Don't rule out the power of the mind.

Here's the summary of the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. And here's what the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, has to say about acupuncture in general. That center funded the study, also known as the SPINE (Stimulating Points to Investigate Needling Efficacy) trial.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: On the plus side, many patients got better.

Credit: Associated Press

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