Acupuncture for back pain (British Acupuncture council fact sheet)
Research has shown that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and at least as good as (if not better than) standard medical care for back pain (Witt 2006; Haake 2007; Cherkin 2009; Sherman 2009a). It appears to be particularly useful as an adjunct to conventional care, for patients with more severe symptoms and for those wishing to avoid analgesic drugs (Sherman 2009a, 2009b; Lewis 2010). It may help back pain in pregnancy (Ee 2008) and work-related back pain, with fewer work-days lost (Weidenhammer 2007; Sawazaki 2008). Acupuncture has in some meta-analyses been found superior to sham acupuncture (Hopton 2010) while in others the advantage was not statistically significant (Yuan 2008; Ammendolia 2008). The sham interventions are not inactive placebos, but effectively different versions of acupuncture, so their value in evaluating treatment efficacy is highly questionable (Sherman 2009a).
Sciatica (British Acupuncture council fact sheet )
There is substantial research to show that acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment and also at least as good, if not better than, standard medical care for back pain (Yuan 2008, Furlan 2008; see the Fact Sheet on Acupuncture and Back Pain). There is less specific research on acupuncture for sciatica, but there is evidence to suggest that it may provide some pain relief (Wang 2009, Chen 2009, Inoue 2008, Wang 2004). (see overleaf)
Acupuncture can help relieve back pain and sciatica by:
stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Zhao 2008).
reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003).
improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling.
causing a transient change in sciatic nerve blood flow, including circulation to the cauda equine and nerve root. This response is eliminated or attenuated by administration of atropine, indicating that it occurs mainly via cholinergic nerves (Inoue 2008).
influencing the neurotrophic factor signalling system, which is important in neuropathic pain (Dong 2006).
increasing levels of serotonin and noradrenaline, which can help reduce pain and speed nerve repair (Wang 2005).
improving the conductive parameters of the sciatic nerve (Zhang 2005).
promoting regeneration of the sciatic nerve (La 2005)
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