Acupuncture And Back Pain

by Scott Morrice on 09/26/2012

As I have already written, acupuncture is one of the many healing modalities that my health professionals have suggested I explore, and specifically in the context of acupuncture and back pain. And I have. And I am able to report that I personally have experienced much success in using this particular treatment form.

My first success was in respect of some lower back issues that I had been living with for a number of years. Acupuncture treatments were used, in conjunction with other healing modalities, to firstly relieve the pain that I was experiencing, and then also to treat the underlying root cause of that discomfort.

It worked! The pain relief was almost immediate—or at least it started to taper off almost immediately, leading eventually to virtually a pain free state. And I might add—that continues.

In light of my own experiences, and particularly in light of my recent posts with regard to placebos and nocebos, I found it interesting that today I stumbled upon an article written in the online version of Time Health on May 12, 2009 by Alice Park.

Ms. Park writes of a project just completed by researchers at the Group Health Centre For Health Studies that examined the efficacy of acupuncture. And they were using patients suffering from back pain!

The researchers divided back pain sufferers into 2 large groups. The first, the control group, continued with the treatment that they had been using up to that point—be it drugs, chiropractic services, or whatever. The second group was to be administered acupuncture treatments of some kind. And this later group was then further broken down into 3 smaller sub-groups. The first of these sub-groups was given an acupuncture regime that used acupuncture points that were specifically designed for them, using classic Chinese practices and analysis. The second sub-group was given an acupuncture regime that used standardized acupuncture points—no custom program for them. The third group also used standardized acupuncture points, but in this case toothpicks were used instead of actual needles, and there was no actual penetration of the patient’s skin. The particular application technique used with all three sub-groups was such that it concealed this very important fact from the patient.

The results. Well first of all, acupuncture wins! Those that received acupuncture treatment responded quicker, and longer, to the pain relief treatment than those that continued with their traditional methodologies.

But beyond that, the results were surprising. The efficacy of each of the three treatments used in the sub-groups were statistically equal to each of the others. The toothpicks—the “sham version”— were as effective as the “real” acupuncture!

So—where does that leave us? I’m not sure.

It may be that even thought the toothpicks never penetrated the skin there was still enough skin pressure to deliver some kind of acupressure (as opposed to acupuncture) stimulation. After all, traditional acupuncture points were used, even in this sub-group.

Or, maybe this illustrates a further validation of the placebo effect!

I don’t know—but I think it is important to find out. The implications are important—even though the end results are apparently the same in either case.

But—the plot gets thicker!

Alice Park is back, and she has just reported on another side to all of this.

In the September 11, 2012 edition of Time Healthland she writes about a study published in the Archives Of Internal Medicine, authored by, among others, Andrew Vickers, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

This study reports that acupuncture is, as we have already been told, more effective in treating chronic pain in many instances than standard pain treatments. But—it is also “slightly” more effective than acupuncture treatments using “sham” needles. Which, on the face of it, seems to deal a death blow to the placebo response theory.


I’m still not sure it is as cut and dry as all that. I still think there is lots of room for many more twists and turns.

Nonetheless, and this is the important point here, I think it is a huge step in the right direction that this conversation is taking place at all.

I’ll keep you posted.

  • Michele

    Hi Scott, measuring “released energy blockages” seems pretty nebulous as it is! It stands to reason, if “energy” is being channeled through these (unseen) meridians, then “blockages” quite likely extend beyond a meridian channel/point boundary, yes? I mean, it is not like we are talking about blood flowing through an artery or vein, a liquid that you can actually see flowing within its designated channel. So if a “blockage” occurs, and the “blocked energy” radiates beyond a channel/point, why wouldn’t an instrument, like a toothpick, intended for the purpose of interrupting the block, do it? Perhaps the reason inserted needles works “slightly” better is because not all “blockages” are affected by external disruption, and require the meridian point within the channel to be disrupted. I had an acupuncturist who did not insert needles (used needles, but did not insert them) because she felt they would be too powerful a disruption? lol. I didn’t get it. I would love to hear how they teach this stuff.

    I thought when Pres Nixon received effective acupuncture treatment years ago that brought exposure and credibility to it here in the states? Most insurance and HSAs authorize payment for acu treatments too, so that says it is pretty well accepted as pretty “legitimate”. Acupressure is apparently quite effective for many as well. These modalities seem a little different as they relate to “physicality” in some way, as opposed to a placebo which is inert in substance and energy/intention based. Placebo seems more akin to homeopathy .. talk about another set of twists and turns!

    Wanted to say too .. I do not write or promote anything about anything, especially not any of this. I do not follow any bloggers, writers, speakers promoting themselves about any of this. I just found your site a few weeks ago when googling something else and had the thought “hey, this guy sounds like his path is similar to where I was”. That is all. Cheers!

    • scottmorrice

      I appreciate your thoughts Michele. And yes, I like the point you make about the possibility that “blockages” might extend beyond a channel. Thanks for joining in—it is good to hear from you.


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