Research: LAM and COLLEAGUES,

Listed in Issue 221


LAM and COLLEAGUES, Department of School of Social Work & Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Republic of Ireland; and †School of Physiotherapy, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin, Republic of Ireland evaluated the totality of evidence in relation to the effectiveness  of acupuncture for nonspecific chronic low back pain (NSCLBP).


Acupuncture has become a popular alternative for treating clinical symptoms of NSCLBP. A number of RCTs have examined the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of NSCLBP.


The authors performed A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). A systematic literature search was completed without date or language restrictions up to May 2012. Studies included in the review were RCTs that examined all forms of acupuncture that adhered to the Traditional Acupuncture Theory for treating NSCLBP. Outcome measures included impairment, activity limitation, and participation restriction. The methodological quality of the studies was examined using the Cochrane risk of bias tool.


Thirty-two studies were included in the systematic review, of which 25 studies presented relevant data for the meta-analysis. Acupuncture had a clinically meaningful reduction in levels of self-reported pain (mean difference =-16.76 [95% confidence interval, -33.33 to -0.19], P = 0.05, I = 90%) when compared with sham, and improved function (standard mean difference =-0.94 [95% confidence interval, -1.41 to -0.47], P < 0.00, I = 78%) when compared with no treatment immediately postintervention. Levels of function also clinically improved when acupuncture in addition to usual care, or electro acupuncture was compared with usual care alone. When acupuncture was compared with medications (NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, and analgesics) and usual care, there were statistically significant differences between the control and the intervention groups but these differences were too small to be of any clinical significance. There was no evidence in support of acupuncture over transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.


This systematic review demonstrates that acupuncture may have a favourable effect on self-reported pain and functional limitations on NSCLBP. However, the results should be interpreted in the context of the limitations identified, particularly in relation to the heterogeneity in the study characteristics and the low methodological quality in many of the included studies.


Lam M, Galvin R and Curry P. Effectiveness of acupuncture for nonspecific chronic low back pain: a systematic  review and meta-analysis. Spine (Phila Pa 1976); 38(24):2124-38. doi: 10.1097/01.brs.0000435025.65564.b7. Nov 15 2013.


The above research studies exploring the roles of massage and massage in the treatment of back pain indicate their potentially positive effects. The research community as well as the general population of back pain sufferers will benefit from the replication and extension of such research.

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