Background: Persistent non-specific low back pain (PNSLBP) is one of the most frequently experienced types of back pain around the world. Wet-cupping is a common intervention for various pain conditions, especially in Korea. In this context, we conducted a pilot study to determine the effectiveness and safety of wet-cupping treatment for PNSLBP.
Methods: We recruited 32 participants (21 in the wet-cupping group and 11 in the waiting-list group) who had been having PNSLBP for at least 3 months. The participants were recruited at the clinical research centre of the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Korea. Eligible participants were randomly allocated to wet-cupping and waiting-list groups. Following the practice of traditional Korean medicine, the treatment group was provided with wet-cupping treatment at two acupuncture points among the BL23, BL24 and BL25 6 times within 2 weeks. Usual care, including providing brochures for exercise, general advice for PNSLBP and acetaminophen, was allowed in both groups. Separate assessors participated in the outcome assessment. We used the 0 to 100 numerical rating scale (NRS) for pain, the McGill Pain Questionnaire for pain intensity (PPI) and the Oswestry Disability Questionnaire (ODQ), and we assessed acetaminophen use and safety issues.
Results: The results showed that the NRS score for pain decreased (-16.0 [95% CI: -24.4 to -7.7] in the wet-cupping group and -9.1 [-18.1 to -0.1] in the waiting-list group), but there was no statistical difference between the groups (p = 0.52). However, the PPI scores showed significant differences between the two groups (-1.2 [-1.6 to -0.8] for the wet-cupping group and -0.2 [-0.8 to 0.4] for the waiting-list group, p < 0.01). In addition, less acetaminophen was used in the wet-cupping group during 4 weeks (p = 0.09). The ODQ score did not show significant differences between the two groups (-5.60 [-8.90 to -2.30] in the wet-cupping group and -1.8 [-5.8 to 2.2] in the waiting-list group, p = 0.14). There was no report of adverse events due to wet-cupping.
Conclusion: This pilot study may provide preliminary data on the effectiveness and safety of wet-cupping treatments for PNSLBP. Future full-scale randomised controlled trials will be needed to provide firm evidence of the effectiveness of this intervention.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00925951.