There is an interesting study out that says acupuncture treatment appears to be more effective than conventional therapy in treating lower back pain. And it may be more effective than conventional treatment even if the acupuncture is done incorrectly. That is the puzzling part. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on a study conducted by German scientists at the University Regensburg.
Acupuncture is an ancient medical procedure that dates back thousands of years in China. Needles are inserted into particular areas of the body to reduce pain.
The odd thing is, no one knows precisely how acupuncture works, but for patients like Karol Stronger that does not matter.
"I'm very happy with the acupuncture that I've had so far. And I certainly think it has improved my back."
Back pain is one of the most common reasons people see their doctors. This latest study looked at more than 1100 patients with chronic lower back pain.
Some got traditional acupuncture. Others had acupuncture done incorrectly, while still others received traditional Western treatment -- exercise, physical therapy and painkillers.
The results: nearly 50 percent of those who had traditional acupuncture said their pain was significantly reduced. Even among those who had the incorrect treatment, nearly as many reported a significant reduction in back pain.
Those who had conventional Western therapy turned out to be the least likely to have some pain relief. Little more than 25 percent in this group said their suffering was reduced. The results have experts wondering whether pain relief from acupuncture comes from the body's reactions to any thin needle pricks.
Dr. Holly Thacker at the Cleveland Clinic says, "It certainly does seem to stimulate endorphins, which are the body's natural pain killers and mood-elevating substances."
Other doctors speculate acupuncture might be nothing more than mind over matter -- a placebo. But Dr. Julie Lin specializes in spinal and sports-related injuries. She says if acupuncture is nothing more than a placebo that is OK with her. "I feel it doesn't matter if whether it is a placebo effect or not as long a we can get our patients better. The end result is all we're looking for."
Doctors consider acupuncture so safe that many encourage their patients to try it, even though it remains a mystery as to how it actually works.