In 2009 U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) started recommending acupuncture for back pain as a treatment option. But after a review of the scientific evidence, the NHS concluded that it is no better than a placebo for treatment of back pain.
“Regrettably, there is a lack of convincing evidence of effectiveness for some widely used treatments,” says Professor Mark Baker, clinical practice director for NICE, in response to the new report. “For example, acupuncture is no longer recommended for managing low back pain with or without sciatica. This is because there is not enough evidence to show that it is more effective than sham treatment.” Basically, someone pretending to give you acupuncture for back pain will be just as effective as a trained acupuncturist delivering the real treatment.
The change in guidelines was the result of comparing multiple studies that looked into the effectiveness of acupuncture in clinical trials. Not surprising to western medicine, they found that while acupuncture did provide some relief to back pain, its effects were no more effective than a placebo.
The evidence points to environment and context being the driving force of what helps acupuncture patients more than the treatment itself. “So, the evidence showed that there was no clinically important difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture for its effects on pain,” explains Dr. Ian Bernstein, a GP and musculoskeletal physician based in London. “The guidelines development group thought that acupuncture was unlikely to have a specific biological treatment effect, but was acting through contextual mechanisms such as seeing a caring and pathic health care professional, or the laying on of hands.”
Finding Relief From Back Pain
With the eminent phasing out of acupuncture for back pain, Britons will have to start looking elsewhere for their treatments. The guidelines now recommend exercise in all forms and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or aleve as a first line of treatment.
This review stems from the larger debate if the NHS should be funding homeopathy treatments at all. Many researchers and scientists believe that the NHS should only be spending money on the most effective treatments and that homeopathy is not one of them.