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Acupuncture Has Small Benefit for Low Back Pain

Treatment is cost effective in the longer term

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 20 (HealthDay News) -- A short course of acupuncture has a small benefit for the treatment of low back pain and is cost effective in the longer term, according to two studies published online Sept. 15 in BMJ.

In the first study, Hugh MacPherson, Ph.D., from the University of York in the U.K., and colleagues randomized 241 patients aged 18 to 65 years with non-specific low back pain to either 10 acupuncture treatments (160 patients) or usual care (81 patients). The research team found that acupuncture caused a small improvement in pain scores, which was strongest after 24 months.

In the second study, members of the same group performed a cost-benefit analysis of acupuncture on the same set of patients. They found that the cost of acupuncture was higher, at a cost of about $864, versus $648 for usual care during the two-year study. However, the cost per quality-adjusted life year gained was about $7,969, which they note is below the nearly $38,000 threshold used in the United Kingdom to determine whether a health technology is affordable.

"Referral to a qualified traditional acupuncturist for a short course of treatment seems safe and acceptable to patients with low back pain," the researchers conclude of the first study. Of the second study, the team concludes that "acupuncture care for low back pain seems to be cost effective in the longer term."

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