from J. D. Bartleson, M.D. Mayo Clinic back pain specialistWhen performed properly by trained practitioners, acupuncture has proved to be an effective therapy for back pain. Several studies have found that acupuncture can help reduce chronic back pain and improve daily function.
Acupuncture for back pain involves inserting very thin needles to various depths into strategic points on your body. This is thought to balance the flow of energy or life force — known as qi or chi (pronounced chee) — believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body.
Scientists don't fully understand how or why acupuncture affects the amount of pain you feel. Several studies have found that acupuncture causes the same effects as sham (minimal or simulated) acupuncture used in some studies for comparison. Sham acupuncture involves tapping the skin with a toothpick at the same strategic points used in acupuncture to simulate the insertion of a needle. Sham acupuncture may not be an accurate way of studying the benefits of acupuncture, however, because it's possible that acupuncture points can be stimulated by even surface pressure. Both acupuncture and sham acupuncture showed improvement over usual medical treatments.
Acupuncture is generally recognized as safe if done by a competent, certified acupuncture practitioner. Possible side effects and complications can occur, which include soreness, bleeding, infection or bruising at the needle sites.