For centuries, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been using acupuncture to treat a wide range of different diseases and disorders. Put most simply, millions of people accept treatment based on sticking needles into their bodies. This sounds a strange thing to do. Western doctors have been consistently skeptical yet, when you actually look at the theory behind it, there is a remarkable similarity in approach. TCM relies on mapping the human body to identify the critical points for manipulation. These points are essentially the same as the major groupings of nerves recognized as significant in the West. Pain-blocking injections are made into TCM acupuncture points. With reluctance, Western researchers are looking more closely for evidence whether acupuncture is effective. Reluctance because the major drug manufacturers discourage research that might put them out of business. Recently, a clinical trial in Seattle was written up in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Some 650 people suffering back pain were divided into four groups. One received genuine acupuncture, the second a modified version of acupuncture pricking the skin in the right places with wooden toothpicks. The third group were pricked with needles at random. The fourth received conventional physical therapy.

All the participants were given ten sessions over a seven-week period. There were follow-up interview spread over the next year to establish whether there was any lasting effect from any of the treatments. Interestingly, 60% of those receiving the different versions of acupuncture were still reporting benefits at the end of the year. Only 40% of those receiving physical therapy reported any continuing improvement. At one level, this would suggest there is a strong placebo effect from the use of acupuncture, i.e. those who receive the treatment believe it will be effective and so it proves to be. In scientific terms, there’s nothing wrong with this outcome. When 60% of participants report a better quality of life twelve months after the treatment ended, this is strong evidence of the effectiveness of the treatment. Physical therapy is also based on social contact with one human selling the effectiveness to another yet this got a smaller placebo effect.

It’s notoriously difficult to diagnose the cause of back pain. This suggests doctors should be very open-minded when looking for possible treatments. When the mind and body are so closely involved, engaging the mind with acupuncture, no matter whether real or simulated, seems more effective than conventional Western therapy. This is not to deny the role of a painkiller like Tramadol. When the pain grows more serious and mobility is affected, everyone will benefit from taking the drug. But this resort to a drug should be seen as part of a general strategy to encourage mobility. If this is your back, you can take the Tramadol online for a short period of time. This should get you through the program of physical exercise, stretching, and hot and cold therapies designed to reduce any swelling and develop better muscle tone to support painless movement. If your problem of back pain is persistent, you should talk to your doctor about acupuncture and some of the alternative therapies. You may find more relief from these treatments than you expect.