Acupuncture is no longer recommended as a treatment for low back pain on the NHS [National Health Service in England], according to new draft guidelines released today by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
The u-turn comes after a review of scientific evidence found that the practice was no better than a placebo in treating those living with low back pain and sciatica.
So why is acupuncture now being recommended by the CDC for all kinds of pain?
The draft guidelines report that there have now been a large number of scientific trials looking into the effectiveness of acupuncture but that, “there was still not compelling and consistent evidence of a treatment-specific effect for acupuncture.”
Nice guidelines from 2009 on the early management of low back pain recommended that healthcare providers “consider offering a course of acupuncture needling comprising up to a maximum of 10 sessions over a period of up to 12 weeks.”
But the new draft guidelines, now covering sciatica as well as low back pain, contain an unequivocal volte-face, stating: “Do not offer acupuncture for managing non-specific low back pain with or without sciatica.”
Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula School of Medicine, University of Exeter, welcomed the new guidelines.
“The previous Nice guidelines for low back pain were seriously out of touch with the reliable evidence. What is worse, they were used by alternative therapists to justify unproven practice,” he said. “ It is good to see that Nice have now caught up with the evidence. Neither spinal manipulation nor acupuncture are supported by good science when it comes to treating low back pain.”
After examining a large number of studies, including 30 randomised control trials that looked at the use of acupuncture without any other treatment, the authors of the draft guidelines concluded that although acupuncture could appear to be effective, the evidence overall demonstrated that it was no better than a placebo.
“Although comparison of acupuncture with usual care demonstrated improvements in pain, function and quality of life in the short term, comparison with sham acupuncture showed no consistent clinically important effect.”
The draft guidelines also reveal that paracetamol is no longer recommended as “the first medical option” and should not be used on its own.
Instead, they advise that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen should be considered.
Codeine and other weak opioids are only recommend in acute cases and only if other anti-inflammatories cannot be taken or if they are not found to help. Electrotherapies such as ultrasound remain on the list of procedures to be avoided.
As the UK finds that acupuncture does NOT help most pain, the US is just now jumping on the bandwagon, recommending all the unproven alternative therapies they so brutally condemned in the past.