“A recent landmark report commissioned by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), found acupuncture to be at or near the top of every category measuring the effectiveness of a wide range of treatments for low back pain. Especially encouraging was the finding that acupuncture was more effective than or at least as effective as the higher risk medications commonly used to treat low back pain including NSAIDs, muscle relaxers and analgesics.” (Source: Acupuncture Now Foundation)
What are my options for back pain relief?
Read the Comparative Effectiveness Review conducted by the AHRQ: Noninvasive Treatments for Low Back Pain.
Key findings on acupuncture
- 25 nonpharmacological interventions, including acupuncture, were reviewed for the treatment chronic low back pain (see: chart)
- These interventions were reviewed against sham, no treatment, or usual care
- Of these, only three (3) interventions provided moderate relief in both magnitude of effect for pain reduction and functional improvement:
- yoga vs. usual care
- progressive relaxation vs. wait list control
- acupuncture vs. no acupuncture
- Acupuncture was the only intervention among these three to also rate “moderate” in strength of evidence (no SOE was rated above moderate) in both areas, landing it the highest rating in all four possible categories.
Tylenol no longer considered effective
Interestingly, in looking at medications, the 2016 review concluded Tylenol should no longer be recommended for back pain relief, contrary to prior recommendation. The authors write:
“Our finding that acetaminophen is not effective for acute low back pain is based on a recent, well-conducted randomized controlled trial (RCT)43 and differs from our prior review, which concluded that there was good evidence of moderate effects. However, the prior conclusion was based on indirect evidence of acetaminophen for other pain conditions and effects of acetaminophen versus NSAIDs, which showed few differences. Another systematic review, noting the absence of placebo-controlled trials at the time and imprecision and methodological shortcomings in the available studies, rated the same evidence as insufficient.607 Like our review, a recent systematic review found that acetaminophen was ineffective for low back pain, primarily based on the results of the new trial.608
Want to learn more about how Chinese medicine can help?
Chinese medicine has so many great options for treating pain. Some of my favorite modalities include cupping and electroacupuncture. When it comes to getting lasting back pain relief, I’ve found these work best when combined with Chinese herbal medicine.
Consider reading my earlier blogs on acupuncture for neck and back pain relief, the pain-relieving properties of Corydalis, or schedule an appointment to experience the medicine for yourself!