A double-blind, randomized study of electroacupuncture found that it can lead to a slight improvement in daily functioning in patients with chronic back pain, although it provides little pain relief.
Electro acupuncture uses a small electrical current that flows between the needles. Some believe this provides additional pain relief when compared to regular acupuncture. The researchers tested the procedure by dividing 121 people with chronic back pain into two groups. The first received electro-acupuncture and the second a sham version of the procedure. None of the patients knew in advance what treatment they would receive. The study in JAMA Network Open included 12 45-minute sessions over six weeks.
Scientists measured pain intensity using a pain scale developed by the National Institutes of Health and administered the questionnaire two weeks before and two weeks after the end of treatment. At both time points there was no statistically significant difference in pain intensity between the treatment and the placebo groups. However, the acupuncture group had modest improvement in disability – they reported improvements in walking comfortably, extended periods of standing, bending or kneeling, and other daily activities.
"For the treatment of back pain, most techniques, even surgery, offer modest relief," said lead author, Dr. Jiang-Ti Kong, anesthetist at Stanford University School of Medicine. "To treat back pain, it is best to use a multimodal approach, and electro-acupuncture can produce a modest but clinically significant reduction in disability."