Birkeflet O et al did a research about the agreement of acupuncture diagnosis and treatment in 30 infertile and 24 previously pregnant women. These women were examined for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) patterns by two acupuncturists who would independently decide on the TCM patterns and the prescription of acupuncture points. They found that 39 different TCM patterns and 36 different acupuncture points were used. Poor to no agreement was found for the choice of acupuncture points. On one hand this makes acupuncture unique; on the other hand this makes it difficult to be recognised. Some research trials failed to distinguish the differences between acupuncture treatment and sham controlled treatment because of the generalization of acupuncture and inadequate treatment received. There was review by Errington-Evans N on effect of acupuncture for anxiety. They found that there was enormous variety regarding the points used, number of points used in a session, duration of sessions, frequency of treatment and duration of treatment programme; all of these makes conclusion difficult. White A et al analysed 47 acupuncture trials to evaluate the adequacy of acupuncture treatment which leads to reliable conclusion. They recommend the concept of dose of acupuncture treatment. Different doses may be required for different conditions and adequate dose is established by clinical experiences or basic research studies. They found that out of 47 reviews only 6 met the criteria of adequacy of the acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture dosage comprise two components: the numbers of points selected in a single treatment and total number of the treatments that patients received. It is possible for patients to have beneficial effects from a couple of treatments together with a couple of points selected for stimulation, but this is rather more exceptional than general. The nature and duration of the condition is a very significant determining factor that how many treatments are effective. Acute conditions of short duration in younger patients are most likely to respond to small dosage of acupuncture. On the contrary, chronic conditions of long term duration need larger dosages of acupuncture.
How many sessions of acupuncture are needed for lower back pain?
During the past 40 years, acupuncture, a therapeutic technique of oriental medicine, has become more and more popular, evolving into one of the most utilized forms of complementary integrative medicine interventions in the United States. More than 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered annually in the United States alone. Its rise in popularity, particularly in the West, can be attributed in part to its effectiveness for pain relief and in part to the fact that scientific studies have begun to prove its efficacy.
Non-specific low back pain is the most common application of acupuncture. It is listed in NICE guidelines in the UK. A course of acupuncture needling comprising up to a maximum of 10 sessions may be offered for non specific back pain over a period of up to 12 weeks. In some cases with long history of lower back pain, much more sessions are needed to completely live in pain free life.
What clinical evidences are there for low back pain treatment with acupuncture?
Five studies were included to support the application of acupuncture: 4 RCTs and 1 systematic review on acupuncture. In these trials patients received 6 x 30min over 6 weeks in one, 20 x 30min over 12 weeks in another, 8 x 30min over 4 weeks in the third trial and 12 x 30min (3 times a week) in the fourth one.
For example, One randomised controlled trial recruited patients through their GPs (a total of 16 GP practices were involved which included 39 GPs) (Thomas, K. J., MacPherson, H., Ratcliffe, J. et al , 2005). Patients included had to be between age 18-65 and had nonspecific low back pain for 4-52 weeks. They also had to have been assessed by their GP to check that primary care management was suitable. A total of 289 patients were identified and approached to join the study, of these 241 accepted and met the criteria. 160 were allocated to receive acupuncture and 81 were allocated to receive usual care, however, 1 patient from each group dropped out, 159 actually received acupuncture (146 were followed up at 3 months, 147 at 12 months and 123 and 24 months) and 80 received usual care (71 were followed up at 3 months, 68 at 12 months and 59 and 24 months). Participants in the acupuncture group received 10 individualised acupuncture treatments over 3 months from one of 6 qualified acupuncturists. The usual care group received 10 NHS treatment sessions according the GPs assessment of the patients clinical need; this was a mixture of interventions, including drugs and recommended back exercises. Half the group also received physiotherapy or manipulation during the first three months. Both groups also received adjunctive care which included massage and advice on diet, rest and exercise. The results showed that acupuncture does give a greater long-term benefit compared to usual care. Acupuncture was significantly more effective in reducing pain at 24 months than usual care. The study also showed that traditional acupuncture care delivered in a primary care setting was safe and acceptable to patients with non-specific low back pain.
White A et al Acupunct Med (2008) 26:111-20
Errington-Evans N CNS Neurosci Ther (2012) 18:277-84
Birkeflet O et al Acupunct Med (2011) 29:51-7
Anderson B and Rosenthal L. Complement Ther Clin Pract (2013) 19:1-5