When other pain relief methods haven’t worked, many back pain sufferers turn to acupuncture.  Below, we look at the research done into whether it is an effective treatment.  Acupuncture treatment for back pain, does it help?

Chronic back pain is difficult to treat.  Many people, having tried other treatments and got little relief, turn to acupuncture in the hope that it will prove to be effective in treating their back pain. Pain and musculoskeletal complaints come seventh in the top ten conditions for which people decide to use acupuncture. Over the years there has been much debate about whether acupuncture really works for chronic back pain. In this article, we look at the evidence.

Acupuncture Treatment for Back Pain, Does it Help?

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.  According to this tradition, pain is the result of blocked energy along the energy pathways (meridians) in the body.  It is believed that natural pain-relieving opioids are released when acupuncture needles are inserted along these invisible pathways. These send signals to the sympathetic nervous system, and neurochemicals and hormones are released into the bloodstream. Acupuncture is recognized as having certain physiologic effects for pain relief. However, there is no clear or plausible explanation as to how it actually works. 

It is claimed that acupuncture has many beneficial effects, including:

  • Reducing back pain. It stimulates nerves located in muscles and other tissues to release endorphins and other substances into the blood stream. This changes the way pain is processed in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Reducing inflammation. It increases the microcirculation of the blood which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising.
  • Improving joint mobility.


What the Research Says

Numerous studies conducted over recent years have concluded that:

  • Acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment.
  • It is effective in reducing chronic pain. It is as good as, if not better, than standard treatment for back pain.
  • It is a useful supplement to other forms of conventional therapy for low back pain.
  • It is beneficial for people suffering with severe chronic back pain.
  • It is an effective alternative for people who want to avoid conventional analgesic drugs.
  • It may help back pain in pregnancy.
  • It can help work-related back pain, resulting in fewer work-days being lost.
  • Acupuncture provided definite short-term pain relief. This relief appeared to be sustained in the longer term.
  • It’s benefits are due to more than the placebo effect. Vickers et al who conducted this meta analysis in 2012 concluded that the effects of acupuncture are statistically significant and different from those of sham or placebo treatments…so we conclude that the effects aren’t due merely to the placebo effect.

Despite these positive findings, other studies have come to less significant or favorable conclusions in relation to acupuncture as an effective treatment for back pain. Further research is needed. Studies will continue to be carried out and interpreting new findings remains challenging.  Until there is definitive proof, debate will continue.  So what should you do if you suffer from back pain?



Most studies appear to indicate that for many people, acupuncture can be an effective treatment for back pain.  It has a low risk of side effects so it is a useful alternative to using conventional pain killers. Although there is still some debate, research seems weighted in a positive direction.  If back pain is causing you problems, and you are considering acupuncture, what should you do?  The answer to the question – acupuncture treatment for back pain, does it help? –  appears to be that it is an option worth considering.

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