The Global Lower Back Pain Crisis – The Role of Acupuncture with Physiotherapy

More than 540 million people suffer with low back pain (LBP), the most common cause of disability in the world. In many cases, acupuncture in physiotherapy can safely and cost-effectively reduce this pain.

Low back pain not only impacts the individual’s quality of life, it is also a socioeconomic problem associated with work absenteeism, disablement and high healthcare costs (Van Tulder, 2006). According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) work related LBP is a major ill health condition in Great Britain, with 2,957,000 working days lost in the 2014/15 financial year alone. Given this impact across both the individual’s quality of life as well as the Great British economy, it is imperative to offer safe, effective and low-cost treatment options.

Patients with Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs, LBP being the most common complaint) are the largest patient population group treated by Physiotherapists in the UK. Physiotherapy treatment reduces the amount of time people are off sick and plays a vital role in preventing new problems developing into chronic and long-lasting disorders (CSP, 2013). Many recent articles addressing the global scale of inappropriate treatment for LBP have quoted the recommendation of better exercise to tackle the growing global issue causing millions to take time off work and hold back from various aspects of day to day life. Exercise programmes are a common treatment modality implemented within a physiotherapy treatment programme. By using acupuncture as an adjunctive treatment, alongside conventional physiotherapy treatments - such as exercise, joint manipulation and massage – physiotherapists trained in Western medical acupuncture are able to manage pain and inflammation, therefore aiding recovery.

While acupuncture forms part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is now being supported by a growing body of scientific research and clinical evidence. Such research has supported that acupuncture may result in pain relief and increased range of movement (Irnich et al. 2002). This reduction in pain and increased mobility allows patients, who would otherwise not be able to fully partake in treatment, to engage fully as their pain is less likely to limit them, increasing the likelihood of improved results and an increase in quality of life.

Ensuring that the UK does not experience the same opioid crisis that has developed in America only increases the importance of offering effective, safe, non-pharmaceutical options to patients suffering from LBP.

The UK’s leading acupuncture association (the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists – AACP) published ‘The Evidence’, evaluating the available research to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture in a clinically relevant manner. The evidence collated in this document demonstrates high-quality scientific research in support of the use of acupuncture for acute LBP and chronic non-specific LBP. After review of the available evidence the AACP recommends the consideration of acupuncture as a treatment option for patients suffering LBP. The AACP encourage their 6000 members to remember the principles of evidence-based medicine, which is defined as the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values and choice.

Other bodies such as the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN, 2013) and many European and International scientific bodies support the use of acupuncture for the treatment of LBP. Including the World Health Organisation, which lists low back pain and sciatica as conditions for which acupuncture has been proved – through controlled trials – to be an effective treatment.

With over 6,000 members, the AACP is the largest acupuncture organisation in the UK. All AACP members are Chartered Physiotherapists who have successfully completed acupuncture training at a postgraduate level, specifically for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain. Acupuncture combined with physiotherapy is widely accepted within both the NHS and private practice. Click here to find your local AACP Acupuncture Physiotherapist.


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