MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Acupuncture has been widely used for acute low back pain (LBP), yet there remains continued controversy regarding its efficacy. Therefore, this systematic review aimed at evaluating the evidence.

English and Chinese databases were searched for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture for acute LBP published up to May 2020. Data on the outcomes of pain intensity, functional status, and analgesic use were extracted. The meta-analysis was performed using the Cochrane Collaboration’s RevMan 5.3, and pooled data were expressed as mean differences (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Of the 13 eligible RCTs identified, 9 were from China, one each from Brazil, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Korea. Four studies were published in English, and 9 were published in Chinese. The 13 RCTs (involving 707 patients) provided moderate-quality evidence that acupuncture has a statistically significant association with improvements in VAS (visual analog scale) score [MD: −1.75 (95% CI: −2.39, −1.12)]. Two studies indicated that acupuncture did not influence the RMDQ (Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire) scores more than the control treatment [MD: −2.34 (95% CI: −5.34, 0.67)]. Three studies suggested that acupuncture influenced the ODI (Oswestry Disability Index) scores more than the control treatment [MD: −12.84 (95% CI: −23.94, −1.74)]. Two studies suggested that acupuncture influenced the number of pills more than the control treatment [MD: −3.19 (95% CI: −3.45, −2.92)]. Merely 2 RCTs were sham-controlled and only 4 of the 13 RCTs mentioned adverse effects.

The authors concluded that acupuncture treatment of acute LBP was associated with modest improvements in the VAS score, ODI score, and the number of pills, but not the RMDQ score. Our findings should be considered with caution due to the low power original studies. High-quality trials are needed to assess further the role of
acupuncture in the treatment of acute LBP.

I do appreciate the authors’ call for caution in interpreting the findings. Yet, I feel that much more caution than the authors advise is needed here:

  • Most studies are from China, and we have often seen that these trials cannot be trusted.
  • Only 2 RCTs are sham-controlled which means that most studies failed to control for placebo effects.
  • Most studies do not mention adverse effects, confirming the unethically low standards of these investigations.

I am afraid that this new review does not inspire me with confidence that acupuncture is an effective therapy for acute LBP.

4 Responses to Acupuncture for acute low back pain: a new systematic review

  • Acupuncture may have a great potential!? Look at this study with mice using electroacupuncture from the Harvard Medical School. Depending on location of inserted „needles“ (electrodes) scientist could cope with a cytokine storm (caused by bacterial toxins) or trigger it.
    https://hms.harvard.edu/news/quieting-storm

    • Mr Heuer.

      Please note that despite the suggestive name, this is not a study of acupuncture. So called “electroacupuncture” is not an equivalent modality to what is generally known as “acupuncture”. Results from studies on electrostimulation with needle electrodes cannot and do not substantiate acupuncture.
      Further, I struggle to share your enthusiasm over this hyped up report on a rodent experiment. Such excercises very seldom lead to same or similar results in humans. Men are not mice.

      • Some men obviousy are!
        Thats not an ad hominem – it’s an ad mus.

        Just why can’t these folk move on?

      • What surprises me is that such article ever made it on a webpage from Harvard Medical School.

        I’m all for investigation of therapies (and yes, even SCAMs). But there’s no such thin as alternative, or chinese traditional, or even Western medecine for that matters. Gotta hate how they wrote about it in such a way.

        There is evidence based medecine, and then there’s snake oil peddling and miracle thinking. If it works, it should be demonstrable in a clinical setting. Why is it that every SCAM proponent has such a hard time grasping this point?

        There’s no big conspiracy preventing effective treatments in joining ”mainstream” medecine. And why is it so hard to have demonstrable efficacy under lab settings for SCAMS? Hint : because it’s either the placebo effect if anything, or the body healing itself.

        Anywho, sorry for going on a rant here, reading proponents of SCAMs failing to realise the flaw in their methods and thoughts, and accusing everyone of big pharma’esque conspiracies gets on my nerves :/

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