ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Know Your Asthma Triggers
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Using Music and Sports to Improve Kids' Asthma
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Licorice May Block Absorption of Organ Transplant Drug
Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy
Music Therapy For Prehistoric Man?
ANIMAL CARE
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
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Hip Replacement Boosts Mobility at Any Age
Resistance Training Boosts Mobility in Knee Arthritis Patients
Rheumatoid Arthritis a Threat to the Heart
CANCER
Many Ignore Symptoms of Bladder Trouble
Green Tea May Help Prevent Oral Cancer
Adding Garlic Might Cut Cancer Risk
CAREGIVING
Coordination Has Led to Quicker Heart Treatment
Injected Medication Errors a Major Problem
Stressed Health Care Workers Battle 'Compassion Fatigue'
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
Migraines in Pregnancy Boost Vascular Risks
Grapefruit-Heavy Diet Helped Spur Dangerous Clot
COSMETIC
Get Sugared!.... Its a sweet choice for hair removal
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
DENTAL, ORAL
Amino Acid May Be Key to Strong Teeth
Gum Care Helps Control Type 2 Diabetes and Its Complications
A Sweet Way to Shield Baby's Teeth
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Treatment for Type 2 Diabetes Updated
Red-Grape Compound May Improve Diabetes
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
DIET, NUTRITION
An Apple a Day May Help Keep Heart Disease Away
Eating your way to Good Health
Holiday Eating Without the Guilt -- or the Pounds
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Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Gas Cooking Might Up Your Cancer Risk
Pesticides Linked to Parkinson's
Air Pollution Raises Risk of Heart Disease, Death
EYE CARE, VISION
Diabetic Eye Disease Rates Soaring
When Gauging Age, the Eyes Have It
Don't Lose Sight of Halloween Safety
FITNESS
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
Walk Long, Slow and Often to Help the Heart
Higher Fitness Levels Tied to Lower Heart, Death Risks
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Peppermint Oil, Fiber Can Fight Irritable Bowel
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
GENERAL HEALTH
Multivitamins Might Prolong Life
Uncover Why Turmeric Helps You Heal
Should the FDA Regulate Tobacco?
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
HEARING
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Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Polyunsaturated Fats Really May Lower Heart Risk
Omega-6 Fatty Acids Can Be Good for You
Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
St. John's Wort Doesn't Work for ADHD
Stomach Germ May Protect Against Asthma
Fussy Babys Could Be Out Of Your Control
MEN'S HEALTH
Drinking Green Tea May Slow Prostate Cancer
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
Countdown to Hair Loss
MENTAL HEALTH
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Mind Exercise Might Help Stroke Patients
Brain Scans Show How Humans 'Hear' Emotion
PAIN
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
Exercise Boosts Bone Density in Breast-Feeding Moms
SENIORS
Healthy Diet Could Cut Alzheimer's Disease Risk
The Healthy Habits of Centenarians
Community Exercise Programs Boost Seniors' Strength
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Flame-Retardant Chemical Linked to Conception Problems
Pre-Pregnancy Weight Linked to Babies' Heart Problems
Lifting Weights Can Ease Arm Swelling in Breast Cancer Survivors
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Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 12 (HealthDay News) -- Any kind of acupuncture, whether it pierced the skin or not, eased chronic lower back pain in a group of adult patients.

"All were superior to usual care," said Daniel Cherkin, lead author of a report published in the May 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic back pain. People receiving acupuncture are more likely to get better."

But the unusual finding that non-penetrating acupuncture did as well as acupuncture that used standard needles will raise questions about how this works, added Cherkin, who is a senior investigator with the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle.

Chronic back pain is a chronic health issue in the United States, and is the top reason why patients go to acupuncturists, often when traditional therapies disappoint.

Although there have been previous studies on whether acupuncture represents a viable treatment option, "the evidence of the value of acupuncture in general is very murky because the quality of the research is not very good," Cherkin said.

This trial, the largest randomized one of its kind, was funded by the National Center for complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More than 600 adults with chronic lower back pain were randomized to one of four study arms: individualized acupuncture, standardized acupuncture, simulated acupuncture (non-penetrating) or "usual care."

In the simulated acupuncture group, practitioners mimicked needle acupuncture by using a toothpick in a needle guide tube -- poking at traditional pressure points without breaking the skin.

Participants received 10 treatments over seven weeks, at the end of which dysfunction and symptom scores improved equally among the three treatment arms.

Also, medication use in all the acupuncture groups decreased immediately and over the next year. About two-thirds of patients were taking medication, mostly painkillers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). By eight weeks, that had declined to 47 percent in the acupuncture groups and 59 percent in the usual-care group.

There were no cost savings for the health plan (treatments were estimated to cost from $600 to $1,200).

But the real surprise was that acupuncture was effective even when the treatment didn't break the skin. "It's not necessary to penetrate the skin. There's no advantage to tailoring and no advantage to using a needle. Why?" Cherkin said. "It throws open the question of how does this work."

There are no answers to that question yet, but some theories persist. It's possible that the "superficial" acupuncture still kicks off a cascade of physiological processes that result in relief, the authors wrote. Or the benefit may come from "nonspecific effects such as therapist conviction [or] patient enthusiasm."

Some previous studies have found similar physiological responses from both types of acupuncture.

Janet Konefal, a licensed acupuncturist and assistant dean for complementary and integrative medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said she was not surprised that non-puncture stimulation had equal effects.

"You can stimulate a point with pressure, needle, electricity, even now with laser light and different frequencies of laser light," she said. "'Pecking' on a point is a Japanese technique for stimulation. You might use that with someone who is older or weak in their constitution. That could explain why two different methods of stimulation work equally well."

Acupuncture of all types is "well on its way to the mainstream," Konefal said. "When we understand that different stimulations may be effective rather than doing deep-needle stimulation which, for some people when in pain can be painful, we can now use laser or light needling or even just electric stimulation on the points; I think that part is great."

And, Cherkin pointed out, "just because you don't understand how it works doesn't mean it doesn't work. It could be worthwhile to pursue it."

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has more on acupuncture.

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