Introduction: Low back pain (LBP) is a globally prevalent disorder with high social significance. Invasive surgical procedures are increasingly being used to treat LBP despite a lack of solid evidence supporting their long-term benefits. This nationwide retrospective cohort study investigated the association between acupuncture treatment and lumbar surgery rate in patients with LBP.
Methods: Using the National Health Insurance Service Sample Cohort Database for 2002-2013, we identified newly diagnosed LBP patients in Korea between 2004 and 2010 and divided them into an acupuncture group and control group according to whether or not they received acupuncture. Propensity scores based on age, sex, income, and Charlson Comorbidity Index were matched between the two study groups. The lumbar surgery rate in the two years following the first visit (control group) or the first acupuncture session (acupuncture group) was calculated. In addition to the overall analysis, stratified analyses were also conducted in different age, sex, and income strata. Sensitivity analyses were further performed using varying definitions of acupuncture treatment.
Results: After matching, 130,089 subjects were included in each study group. The lumbar surgery rate was significantly lower in the acupuncture group than in the control group (hazard ratio [HR] 0.633, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.576-0.696). Decrease in HR was consistently observed in the acupuncture group for all age strata, except for patients in their 20s (HR 1.031, 95% CI 0.804-1.323). HR for lumbar surgery tended to be further reduced in the older age groups upon acupuncture treatment, with no apparent sex-related differences. Lowered HR in the acupuncture group was continuously observed across all income groups; the higher income group showed a tendency of greater decrease. Sensitivity analyses showed that the number of acupuncture sessions had no major impact on the likelihood of lumbar surgery, but also that more intensive acupuncture treatment was associated with further reduction in lumbar surgery rates.
Conclusion: The present results found that administration of acupuncture treatment is associated with lower lumbar surgery rates for LBP patients in Korea. Prospective studies are warranted in the future to further investigate the effect of acupuncture treatment on lumbar surgery incidence.