By William C. Haas III, MD, MBA

Integrative Medicine Fellow, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Dr. Haas reports no financial relationships relevant to this field of study.


  • Acupuncture may reduce acute low back pain among patients treated in the emergency department.

SOURCE: Liu Y, et al. Efficacy and safety of acupuncture for acute low back pain in emergency department: A pilot cohort study. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med 2015;2015:179731.

Researchers in Taiwan evaluated the safety and efficacy of acupuncture therapy for managing acute low back pain (LBP) treated in an emergency department. Sixty patients experiencing acute LBP without a life-threatening condition or severe neurological deficit were divided into two groups based on their willingness to receive acupuncture. Both the acupuncture and the control groups underwent a one-time treatment for 15 minutes at fixed points (LI10, L14, ST36, GB34, LR3). Of note, acupuncture therapy frequently involves individualized points as opposed to the fixed points performed in this study. Sham treatment was applied to the control group using seed patches (cluster of small seeds fixed to the skin with adhesive tape). The primary outcome was LBP scores measured using a visual analog scale at baseline, immediately after treatment, and day 3 post-treatment. Adverse events were recorded as secondary outcomes.

No significant differences between the two groups were noted at baseline. Immediately after the intervention, only the acupuncture group experienced a significant decrease (P < 0.001) in pain; however, 3 days after treatment both groups experienced significant pain reductions (acupuncture, P < 0.001; control, P < 0.011). No significant adverse events were reported in either group.

Although limited by the inherent shortcomings of a cohort study, the present study offers encouraging results regarding acute LBP, one of the most common complaints among patients in the emergency department. Before drawing definitive conclusions, additional studies should be performed with larger sample sizes, randomization, and blinding between the groups. Further characterizing the patients that experience the greatest improvement in LBP should also be performed due to the complex nature of pain management, whether acute or chronic.