A recent landmark report commissioned by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), found acupuncture to be at or near the top of every category measuring the effectiveness of a wide range of treatments for low back pain.
Especially encouraging was the finding that acupuncture was more effective than or at least as effective as the higher risk medications commonly used to treat low back pain including NSAIDs, muscle relaxers and analgesics.
Only three of the 30 therapies tested (yoga, progressive relaxation and acupuncture) scored as high as ‘moderate’ in their effect on pain reduction and functional improvement for chronic low back pain. Out of these three, only acupuncture had the highest rating across the board of ‘moderate’ in all four possible categories. By comparison, two types of painkillers – NSAIDs and Tramadol – scored as ‘moderate’ for reducing pain and a ‘small’ effect on improving function. Most drugs did not show any measurable reduction of pain or improvement of function, while the highly controversial opioids showed only ‘small’ beneficial effects on both pain and function. A small increased benefit favoring acupuncture over medications was found when comparing the two for their effects on pain and function in chronic low back pain.
‘Noninvasive Treatments for Low Back Pain. Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, No. 169. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2016 Feb.’