The large German study of nearly 1,200 patients, published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, is the largest and most rigorous analysis yet of the use of acupuncture to treat back pain. Some of the patients received real acupuncture, others were needled randomly, and the control group received conventional therapy. Nearly half the patients in the acupuncture group reported significant relief, compared to just 27 percent in the conventional therapy group. But surprisingly, fake acupuncture worked almost as well as the real thing with 44 percent of patients also reporting significant relief.
In fall of 2007, The New York Times and other national newspapers reported on a new study that found six months of acupuncture provides more relief for back pain than conventional treatments.
Real acupuncture did reduce the need for pain medicine. Only 15 percent of patients who received real acupuncture used extra pain medication, but 34 percent of patients in the sham group and 59 percent of patients in conventional therapy needed extra pain pills.