A large matched cohort study undertaken in Korea, suggests that having acupuncture treatment for lower back pain is associated with less likelihood of eventually needing lower back surgery. Using a nationwide insurance database, researchers identified all newly-diagnosed cases of lower back pain over a six year period, and separated out the subset who had had a course of acupuncture. After matching, over 130 000 patients were included in each of an acupuncture and non-acupuncture group. The lumbar surgery rate in the two years following a first acupuncture session was calculated.
Rates of lumbar surgery were significantly lower in the acupuncture group for all age ranges, except patients in their twenties, and across all income groups. More intensive acupuncture was associated with further reductions in lumbar surgery rates, as was being an older patient. The authors point out that this was acupuncture delivered by experienced practitioners in real-world clinical settings, unlike the strictly-controlled acupuncture sometimes applied in medical trials.