ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
Climate Change Could Sting Allergy, Asthma Sufferers
Overweight Moms More Likely to Have Asthmatic Kids
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Green Tea May Help Brain Cope With Sleep Disorders
Needling Away Your Headaches With Acupuncture
ANIMAL CARE
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
In Elderly Women, Hip Fractures Often Follow Arm Breaks
'Snowbirds' Beware the Climate Changes
CANCER
U.S. Reported 25,000 Cases of HPV-Related Cancers Annually
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
Yoga Eases Sleep Problems Among Cancer Survivors
CAREGIVING
Caregivers Face Multiple Strains Tending Older Parents
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
Flu Strikes a Milder Blow This Season
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
Tai Chi and Qigong Offer Many Health Benefits: Review
COSMETIC
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
Science May Banish Bad Hair Days
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
DENTAL, ORAL
Obesity Boosts Gum Disease Risk
Periodontal Disease Impacts Whole Health
Gum Disease Might Boost Cancer Risk
DIABETES
24 Million Americans Had Diabetes in 2007
Fructose-Sweetened Drinks Up Metabolic Syndrome Risk
Strict Blood Sugar Lowering Won't Ease Diabetes Heart Risk
DIET, NUTRITION
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Compound in Berries May Lessen Sun Damage
Myrrh May Lower High Cholesterol
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Gene Mutation May Cause Some Cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Vitamin D Deficit May Trigger MS Risk Gene
Disinfectants Can Boost Bacteria's Resistance to Treatment
EYE CARE, VISION
Florida Vision Test Law: Fewer Traffic Deaths Among Elderly
Poor Night Vision May Predict Age-Related Eye Disease
When Gauging Age, the Eyes Have It
FITNESS
Go To Work But Skip The Car
Being Active an Hour a Day Puts Brakes on Weight Gain
Moderate Aerobic Exercise Lowers Diabetics' Liver Fat
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
GENERAL HEALTH
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
Simple Holistic Approach to Fight the Common Cold
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Whole Grains Lower Risk of Heart Failure
Laughter Can Boost Heart Health
Fewer Heart Attacks After England Goes Smoke-Free
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Hand Washing 10 Times a Day May Help Keep Flu Away
Grapefruit Compound Inhibits Hepatitis C Virus
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Exercise Eases Obesity and Anger in Kids
Even Young Kids Can Learn CPR
Fussy Babys Could Be Out Of Your Control
MEN'S HEALTH
Countdown to Hair Loss
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
Varicose Veins May Mask Larger Problem
MENTAL HEALTH
A Simple 'Thank You' Brings Rewards to All
Environmental Chemicals May Affect Male Reproduction
Keeping Mentally Active Seems To Keep The Brain Active
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Breast-Feeding May Protect a Woman's Heart
Expectant Mom's Exercise Keeps Newborn's Birth Weight Down
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
SENIORS
Eating Well And Keeping Active As You Grow Old Will Help You Stay Sharp
Rapid Weight Loss in Seniors Signals Higher Dementia Risk
For a Healthier Retirement, Work a Little
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Soy May Not Lead to Denser Breasts
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
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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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