Not all advances in treating spinal disorders are necessarily new. Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years, and researchers and medical experts have now established that this ancient healing art can relieve chronic back pain. One recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that acupuncture can be more effective than standard treatments such as medication or physical therapy for relieving back pain – even for conditions such as very mild incidents of spinal stenosis and slipped disc. In the study, patients were divided into four groups. In one group patients received customized acupuncture treatments. Another group received acupuncture treatments generally recommended by practitioners for chronic lower back pain. A third group received only a treatment that mimicked acupuncture, using a toothpick that never actually penetrated the skin. The fourth group simply continued the course of therapy they were already pursuing, without acupuncture.
Researchers found that all three of the acupuncture groups – even the simulated acupuncture group – reported more “meaningful” improvement in their ability to engage in everyday activities than did the group that continued their usual back pain therapy without acupuncture. Moreover, the study authors found that the superior improvements in pain reduction reported by the acupuncture group participants persisted after a year.
This study certainly doesn’t suggest everyone with spinal problems should stop their current treatment regimens in favor of acupuncture. After all, not all participants in the study benefited from acupuncture. But the study concluded that acupuncture is a reasonable option to be considered when selecting therapy for back pain. This is one more example of new thinking about treatments for chronic back pain, which has witnessed major advances in recent years. For example, spinal decompression surgery, which can dramatically reduce back pain by relieving pressure on pinched nerves emanating from the spinal column, was traditionally followed by spine fusion surgery, to stabilize the vertebral segments where the decompression procedure was performed. Today the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System can be implanted as an alternative to spinal fusion. Unlike spinal fusion, the TOPS solution allows the individual vertebrae to maintain their full range of independent motion.
If you have chronic back pain, make sure you know all the treatment options available – from acupuncture to spinal decompression surgery. And always work with qualified physicians specializing in spinal problems to find an appropriate treatment protocol.