Acupressure beats physical therapy for lower back pain

February 17, 2006 |

Acupressure (applying pressure with the thumbs or fingertips to the same points on the body stimulated in acupuncture) seems to be more effective in reducing low back pain than physical therapy, finds a study published online by the BMJ today.

Low back pain is a common health problem worldwide. In previous studies, acupressure has been shown to be effective in alleviating various types of pain, but little is known about its effect on low back pain.

Researchers in Taiwan recruited 129 patients with chronic low back pain from a specialist orthopaedic clinic. All patients completed a standard disability questionnaire before being randomly allocated to two treatment groups: 64 patients received six sessions of acupressure and 65 patients received physical therapy. Results were analysed immediately after treatment and again after six months.

The mean disability score after treatment was significantly lower in the acupressure group than in the physical therapy group.

In fact acupressure conferred an 89% reduction in disability compared with physical therapy, after adjusting for pre-treatment disability. This improvement lasted for six months.

Benefit was also greater in the acupressure group for variables such as “leg pain,” “pain interferes with normal work,” and “days off from work/school.”

This study shows that acupressure is more effective in alleviating low back pain than physical therapy in terms of pain scores, functional status, and disability, say the authors. The effect was not only seen in the short term, but lasted for six months.

These results support the conclusion of previous studies. Acupressure may thus be useful for reducing pain and improving body function and level of disability in low back pain, they conclude.

From BMJ

6 Responses to Acupressure beats physical therapy for lower back pain

  1. cChristina11 January 24, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    Remove those guy wires and the TV tower would bend and collapse. Those guy wires keep it straight and stronger because it shortens the length in relation to the width. You can do the similar experiment by taking a skinny twig and standing it on a table and pressing down on the end. Notice how it starts to bend and break.backpain

  2. Dennis Denlinger July 20, 2007 at 11:36 pm #

    I applied engineering basics to the human body and made some interesting discoveries. First, that what doctors say about the spinal curve being a shock absorber is not true. An engineer would say that the spine should be held straighter (ie, less curved) by certain muscles so that it can go into a curve as it absorbs mechanical shocks. Basically, a shock absorber needs to be able to deform and to return to the original shape.

    Second, when these certain muscles do not lessen the curve, the ligaments on the outside of the curve carry tension (ie, stretching) load and may hurt. As an example, hold your arm out straight, bend your elbow with the palm down. Allow the wrist to go limp so the hand flops down. Now, using the other hand, press against the back of the flopped hand just enough to start to feel some pain. Here you are stretching ligaments. Next, using the muscles in the back of the forearm with the flopped hand, straighten the wrist, bringing up the flopped hand. Use those muscles to keep the wrist straighter. Now, using the other hand, try to press against the back of the formerly flopped hand forcing the wrist to bend, but using those muscles in the forearm do not let it bend. No matter how hard you press, as long as the wrist is kept straight, it will not hurt. A similar thing can happen in the spine. Here it can be seen that the ligaments can be utilized as backups to the muscles. In designing engineered objects it is often necessary to create a backup system in case the primary system is broken (as with exhausted muscles when overused) or off line (as at night when muscles are asleep). When the primary system is off line there need to be bells and whistles and flashing lights to warn the operator that something is wrong – in the body those warnings are pain.

    In addition, when the lower back spring muscle is being used the load on the discs is distributed across the entire disc. However, when the lower back spring muscle is not being used (allowing the spine to curve maximally) the load is concentrated on the rear of the discs, possibly causing increased pressure and injury. As an experiment, make both hands into fists, bend the elbows so the fists are near your chest and press the flats of the fists together. Feel how much pressure there is on the fists. Next, rock the fists so only the knuckles (not the flats) of the fists touch and feel how much more pressure is there is due to the same load being concentrated on less area. Next, rock back so the flats touch and feel how the pressure is reduced because the same load is distributed over a greater area. In this experiment the fists represent the vertebra bones – when flat it is like when the spine is held less curved and when the knuckles touch the spine is allowed to curve totally. Finally, have someone else do this with your flat hand between the fists. This time his/her fists represent the vertebra bones and your flat hand represents the disc. Feel how much more pressure is on the disc when the spine is allowed to curve (ie, when the knuckles touch) than when the spine is held less curved (ie, when the knuckles are flat).

    These are engineering basics. They apply to the design of a building and they apply to the way the muscles and bones of the human body are used.

    Also, when the spine is held less curved it is stronger based on the principles first published by Euler in 1759. Basically, the thiner a column is in relation to it’s length, the more likely it will fail in bending. Have you ever seen a tall television transmission tower in the country with the guy wires going to the ground? Remove those guy wires and the TV tower would bend and collapse. Those guy wires keep it straight and stronger because it shortens the length in relation to the width. You can do the similar experiment by taking a skinny twig and standing it on a table and pressing down on the end. Notice how it starts to bend and break. Before it breaks, place your other hand in the middle of the twig on the side of the bend to keep it from bending so much and notice how much stronger it becomes. That is the application of another engineering basic.

    Yes I studied engineering while earning my Architectural Degree from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.

    These basic engineering principles as applied to the human body have not yet been clinically studied, although there have been happy people who have tried them on their own bodies. I would be very happy to work with professional researchers doing clinical studies.

  3. Anonymous July 16, 2007 at 11:09 pm #

    This is the type of post that is more dangerous than helpful. The author does not site his reference, it is an extremely small sample size, and what journal was it in? Was it peer-reviewed? What outcomes tool was used? How valid are the statistics from this tool?
    While I am not a researcher, I feel it is very careless and potetially harmful to anyone who thinks that they need acupressure for their chronic back pain.
    Until multiple Randomized Controlled Trials are completed, published in peer-reviewed journals, and critically analyzed, it is just plain dangerous to make these unfounded claims.

  4. gordman July 9, 2007 at 6:51 am #

    These two techniques have advantages and disadvantages. Acupressure is a good old technique and no doubt has great results. Yet, physical therapy is the subject of intense research and has known improvements all along. Most people are trained in physical therapy continued education programs and most people trust this technique. Acupressure and physical therapy are very different, we cannot draw the line and exclude one of them, we might loose more this way. I think the best way is a combination of the two.

  5. Anonymous March 15, 2007 at 7:53 pm #

    The description of the study comparing acupressure outcomes vs. “physical therapy” outcomes for low back pain is not very descriptive. It is unclear what is really being compared. What treatment was rendered in the “physical therapy?” Is physical therapy referring to exercise treatment only? For one, I am a manual therapist, and acupressure is part of manual physical therapy. The study is comparing physical therapy with physical therapy in reality.

  6. Anonymous October 20, 2006 at 5:12 pm #

    Prolotherapy works very well for low back pain

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