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Acupuncture for Bad Backs: Even Sham Therapy Works

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 13, 2009

Anyone who has suffered from back pain knows that when the throbbing gets bad enough, you’ll try anything to find relief — heating pads, acupuncture, pain relievers, physical therapy, even poking yourself with toothpicks.

What?

Yes, toothpicks. Researchers at the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle found that “fake” acupuncture using toothpicks instead of needles was as effective as the traditional Chinese healing method for relieving back pain. (See pictures of spiritual healing around the world.)

Daniel Cherkin, a senior investigator at the center, gathered 638 patients with chronic low back pain, none of whom had ever had acupuncture, and gave them one of three different acupuncture treatments. One group received individual care in the classic model of the ancient Chinese practice in which the acupuncturist analyzes the patient’s overall health by studying his body and lifestyle, taking his pulse and looking at his tongue (practitioners believe that the condition of a person’s tongue is indicative of his total health state) and designs a customized set of acupuncture points that are most likely to relieve pain.

Another group received acupuncture at standardized points, which experienced practitioners agree can help the majority of back-pain sufferers. A final group received the toothpick treatment. These patients were poked with toothpicks inserted through the acupuncture needle tube at the standard points — but unlike with traditional acupuncture, practitioners did not penetrate the patient’s skin. Instead, they pricked and then twirled the toothpick to simulate a needle going in.

Cherkin and his team followed up with the patients at eight weeks, 26 weeks and a year after their sessions to find out how much pain they were experiencing. After eight weeks, twice the number of patients getting any type of acupuncture — whether it was customized, standard or sham — reported improvements in their ability to function, such as walking or going up and down steps without pain, compared with those sticking with traditional care.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “TIME.COM”

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One Response

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  1. Sabio said, on May 13, 2009 at 9:25 PM

    I am a former acupuncturist (from Japan), I had severe back pain once and went to several well know acupuncturist in Japan to treat my pain. No needles helped. Wait, one did, The one with the spinal block they did just before surgery, after that needle, the pain went away.


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