As paracetamol often failed, Chinese Acupressure found to be helpful in reducing lower back pain

Lower back pain
Lower back pain treatment requires re-look, say Monash University research project. (Monash University) Monash University

A recent study finds that acupressure, a traditional Chinese medicine technique, can improve chronic pain symptoms in the lower back amid reports that paracetamol has been proved to be a failure in many studies.

"Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of needles, pressure is applied with a finger, thumb or device to specific points on the body," explained Susan Murphy, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Michigan Medicine and lead author of the study.

Murphy says that while acupressure has been previously found to be beneficial in people with cancer-related or osteoarthritis pain, there are few studies that have examined acupressure in people with back pain.

In the study, the research team divided 67 participants with chronic low back pain into three groups: relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure or usual care. It is also found to be helpful in reducing insomnia, said Murphy.

Participants were trained to administer acupressure on certain points of the body, at least for 30 minutes daily, over the course of six weeks. Participants in the usual care group were asked to continue whatever treatments they were currently receiving.

"We found that people who performed stimulating acupressure experienced pain and fatigue improvement and those that performed relaxing acupressure felt their pain had improved after six weeks," Murphy said. "We found no differences among the groups in terms of sleep quality or disability after the six weeks."

Since the chronic pain is difficult to manage, "better treatments are needed for chronic pain," Murphy said. "Most treatments offered are medications, which have side effects, and in some cases, may increase the risk of abuse and addiction."

The study highlights the benefits of a non-pharmacological treatment options and says acupressure may be a useful pain management strategy given that it is low risk, low cost and easy to administer. "We also recommend additional studies into the different types of acupressure and how they could more specifically be targeted to patients based on their symptoms," she said.

The study has been published in the journal Pain Medicine.

Potential treatment option sans paracetamol

In another recent study, Paracetamol was found to be no better than placebo at speeding recovery from acute episodes of lower back pain or improving pain levels, function, sleep, or quality of life, according to the first large randomised trial to compare the effectiveness of paracetamol with placebo for low-back pain. The findings, published in The Lancet, question the universal endorsement of paracetamol as the first choice painkiller for low-back pain.

Low-back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and clinical guidelines universally recommend paracetamol as the first choice analgesic for acute low-back pain, despite the fact that no previous studies have proved it as effective.

The Paracetamol for Low-Back Pain Study (PACE) examined 1,652 individuals (average age 45 years) with acute low-back pain from 235 primary care centres in Sydney, Australia for 4 weeks and followed-up for 3 months.