Acupuncture vs. Drugs for Low Back Pain

Acupuncture was more effective than medication for easing severe low-back pain in a new study.

Patients treated with acupuncture had a 33% greater improvement in disability compared to patients receiving injections of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, diclofenac.

Although several studies have pointed to the benefits of acupuncture for acute back pain, researchers were interested in examining its comparative efficacy to drugs in patients with more severe symptoms. A total of 58 low-back pain patients with severe disability were randomly assigned to receive either one acupuncture treatment or an injection of diclofenac. The researchers used motion style acupuncture, a novel technique that requires patients to move a part of their body actively or passively while being pricked with acupuncture needles.

Although both the treatment groups improved, the acupuncture patients had greater reductions in pain and disability. Along with better scores on the Oswestry Disability Index, acupuncture patients also had their pain scores drop by an average of 3.12 points more than the injection patients. These significant differences were sustained at both the two and four week follow-ups.

This is consistent with previous studies showing that acupuncture is more effective than anti-inflammatory drugs for many pain conditions. In a 2002 study of patients with knee osteoarthritis, electroacuncture produced more substantial pain reductions than diclofenac treatments. And just last month a new study showed that acupuncture was better than NSAIDs for menstrual pain.

While medications temporarily dull the symptoms, these studies suggest that acupuncture addresses the root of pain to provide more lasting results.


Sangdee C, et al. Electroacupuncture versus Diclofenac in a symptomatic treatment of Osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 2002. 2: 3: doi:10.1186/1472-6882-2-3.