Is acupuncture the answer?

As always at Richmond Physiotherapy we like to keep abreast of all the most recent and updated research. We put on our thinking caps to scrutinise and weigh up research evidence, clinical experience and treatment effectiveness.

New guidelines

In 2016 The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published new guidelines on the management of low back pain (LBP) and sciatica to update their previous 2009 publication.

The recommendations were widespread, covering topics such as diagnosis, surgery, drug therapy and rehabilitation.

As physiotherapists we were pleased to see that once again the provision of exercise for the management of LBP featured very highly in these recommendations.

Somewhat controversially however, NICE no longer recommended acupuncture. This reversal of their guidelines was in stark contrast to the previous version in which a course of acupuncture for the management of low back pain and sciatica was advocated. This reversal in recommendation has been met with opposition from medical and health practitioners.

Pain and inflammation management

Acupuncture is one of the many techniques used by physiotherapists for the management of pain and inflammation. It has been commonplace in the UK for some 200 years, under the heading of Western Medical Acupuncture (WMA). WMA has a robust body of evidence in support of its mechanism of action. It has been shown that sterile fine needles, inserted into the skin, stimulate the body’s own healing chemicals in order to aid recovery and enhance rehabilitation.

The holistic approach

Acupuncture originated as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), an ancient concept focussed more holistically on the balance and flow of the body’s energy and systems, designed to maintain equilibrium and a healthy state.

Physiotherapists using acupuncture must maintain high standards of practice and maintain their membership of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP). The AACP is the largest professional body for acupuncture in the UK with a membership of more than 6000 Chartered physiotherapists, practising medical acupuncture. They petitioned the guideline commissioners to review these recommendations but  to no avail.

Despite this decision by NICE, acupuncture for low back pain continues to be well supported in the wider medical literature and continues to be recommended by the World Health Organisation along with many European and International governing bodies.

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