Acupuncture for Chronic Low Back Pain in Older Patients: A Randomized, Controlled Trial

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2003 Dec;42(12):1508-17. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keg405. Epub 2003 Jul 30.


Objective: To determine if acupuncture is an effective, safe adjunctive treatment to standard therapy for chronic low back pain (LBP) in older patients.

Methods: The inclusion criteria for subjects were: (i) LBP > or =12 weeks and (ii) age > or =60 yr; the exclusion criteria were (i) spinal tumour, infection or fracture and (ii) associated neurological symptoms. The subjects were randomized to two groups. The control group of subjects continued their usual care as directed by their physicians, i.e. NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, paracetamol and back exercises. Subjects in the acupuncture group in addition received biweekly acupuncture with electrical stimulation for 5 weeks. Outcome was measured by the modified Roland Disability Questionnaire (RDQ) at weeks 0, 2, 6 and 9. The primary outcome measure was change in RDQ score between weeks 0 and 6.

Results: Fifty-five patients were enrolled, with eight drop-outs. Twenty-four subjects were randomized to the acupuncture group and 23 were randomized to the control group. Acupuncture subjects had a significant decrease in RDQ score of 4.1 +/- 3.9 at week 6, compared with a mean decrease of 0.7 +/- 2.8 in the control group (P = 0.001). This effect was maintained for up to 4 weeks after treatment at week 9, with a decrease in RDQ of 3.5 +/- 4.4 from baseline, compared with 0.43 +/- 2.7 in the control group (P = 0.007). The mean global transition score was higher in the acupuncture group, 3.7 +/- 1.2, indicating greater improvement, compared with the score in the control group, 2.5 +/- 0.9 (P < 0.001). Fewer acupuncture subjects had medication-related side-effects compared with the control group.

Conclusions: Acupuncture is an effective, safe adjunctive treatment for chronic LBP in older patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Analgesia / adverse effects
  • Acupuncture Analgesia / methods*
  • Acupuncture Analgesia / psychology
  • Aged
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / drug therapy
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal