Acupuncture’s merits are still hotly debated by the medical community, with many experts claiming that the acupuncture’s pain relief benefits are purely the placebo effect. Two recent studies on acupuncture for back pain and arthritis show that this alternative pain treatment has real effects that exceed the pain relief benefits of medication and physical therapy.

Acupuncture for Back Pain

In a study led by Dr. Daniel Cherkin of Group Health, 638 patients with chronic low back pain were divided in to four groups. The first group received generic acupuncture treatments for low back pain, while the second were given individually prescribed acupuncture treatments. The third group received “false” acupuncture done with toothpicks on the surface of the skin. The fourth, a control group, received medication and standard physical therapy.

At the end of a seven week period, all three of the acupuncture groups – even the toothpick one – showed 60% improvement in pain levels and the patients’ ability to function. The standard treatment group without acupuncture improved by only 40%.

Acupuncture for Arthritis Symptoms

A similar study was conducted two years earlier, in Germany, on arthritis patients. Here, the acupuncture group showed a 50% improvement and the “fake” acupuncture subjects – who were given acupuncture needle treatments on points other than the real acupuncture points – experienced a 40% improvement and lessening in their arthritis pain.

How Acupuncture Works

Acupuncture treatments are said to aid the flow of “Qi,” chi, or energy throughout the body, restoring health. Traditional Chinese Medicine accomplishes this by releasing blocked energy that may have stagnated at certain points along the energy lines or meridians – invisible lines of energy that carry chi through the body. Key points along the 14 meridians are used as the acupuncture treatment points and this is where needles are applied.