Does Acupuncture Help with Back Pain?


    Research indicates that acupuncture may alleviate back pain and enhance daily functioning, although conflicting evidence exists. The practice entails inserting fine needles into designated acupoints on the skin to address pain and various ailments. So, let’s find out if acupuncture does work for back pain, elucidating its mechanisms and detailing expectations before, during, and after treatment. Additionally, it examines potential risks, side effects, and the financial considerations associated with acupuncture.

    Does acupuncture help with back pain?

    A 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis involving 13 randomized controlled trials found that acupuncture may modestly improve acute lower back pain (LBP) in terms of pain intensity, daily self-care ability, and reducing the need for pain medication, but it did not significantly enhance lumbar region function. Further, high-quality research is needed to confirm these findings. Another 2021 review suggests acupuncture for the back could be an effective first-line treatment for chronic LBP, although variations in study methods make definitive conclusions challenging. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health indicates that evidence supporting acupuncture’s benefits is low to moderate for chronic LBP and low for acute LBP.

    How does acupuncture work?

    Acupuncture, a part of Chinese medicine, believes in “Qi” energy flowing through the body along pathways called “meridians.” Traditional practitioners think acupuncture helps restore Qi flow for better mental and physical health.

    Western experts have different ideas on how acupuncture eases pain. A 2018 study suggests that acupuncture causes small skin injuries, leading to the release of a substance called ATP, which turns into adenosine. Both ATP and adenosine block pain receptors, helping reduce pain.

    The same study found that sham acupuncture, where needles touch but don’t pierce the skin, is nearly as effective as real acupuncture. This might activate skin nerve fibers, producing a pain-relieving effect.


    Acupuncture stands as a widely embraced complementary approach, offering support for various conditions.

    Notable advantages of acupuncture encompass:

    • It blends seamlessly with other treatments, enhancing overall effectiveness.
    • Proven efficacy in handling chronic pain, migraines, and headaches.
    • Low-risk profile, minimizing the likelihood of side effects.
    • Versatile in addressing multiple health issues simultaneously.

    While acknowledging its benefits, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) emphasizes the importance of not substituting acupuncture for conventional medical assistance.


    Every therapy carries its own set of risks and benefits, making it crucial for individuals to consult medical advice before embarking on any treatment. Acupuncture won’t make back pain worse, but most of the adverse effects reported are mild and temporary.

    Potential risks associated with acupuncture include:

    • Possibility of bleeding, bruising, and soreness at insertion sites.
    • There’s a risk of infection due to the use of unsterilized needles.
    • There are rare instances of needle breakage causing internal organ damage.

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strictly regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices. Adhering to specific standards, the needles must be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use only by a licensed practitioner. For chronic or severe conditions, it is advisable to integrate acupuncture with conventional treatments, following the principles of complementary therapy.

    How long does it take for acupuncture to work?

    As you explore the world of acupuncture, insights provided by the American Institute of Alternative Medicine (AIAM) indicate that the effects of this ancient practice often become apparent within a relatively short span of 3 to 4 days. However, it’s crucial to understand that the journey varies for each individual, and the number of acupuncture sessions required, along with the time it takes to witness noticeable results, is subject to personal differences.

    How much does acupuncture cost?

    Medicare offers coverage for up to 12 acupuncture sessions for chronic lower back pain, and it may extend coverage for an additional eight sessions if there’s improvement after the initial 12. Medicaid’s coverage of acupuncture varies depending on the state. Health insurance policies’ coverage for acupuncture is not consistent. It’s important to review your own policy to understand its specific provisions regarding acupuncture.

    A 2019 study explored the personal costs associated with acupuncture across 41 metropolitan areas in the United States, utilizing data from an online payment platform.

    The study, which included 723 clinics, revealed that the cost for an initial acupuncture session varied significantly, ranging from $15 to $400, with a median cost of $112. This variation represents the spectrum from the lowest copayment to the highest direct payment required. For subsequent visits, the costs ranged between $15 and $300, with a median of $85.

    Before beginning treatment, it’s advisable to have a conversation with your acupuncture provider about the anticipated costs, ensuring clarity and preparedness for any financial commitments associated with your care.

    What to expect during the session?


    Before starting the acupuncture session, the practitioner will inquire about your overall health, including any medical conditions and medications. They will also physically examine the specific area to be treated. You will be asked to sit or lie down, and you might need to remove certain clothing items to allow access to the targeted treatment areas.


    The acupuncturist will use short, thin needles that are single-use and pre-sterilized to reduce infection risk. These needles will be inserted just beneath the skin or into the muscle below, remaining in place for several minutes to half an hour. While the procedure may cause sensations like heaviness, numbness, or tingling, it should not induce significant pain.


    After the acupuncture needles are removed, there might be slight pain at the site. Reactions to acupuncture differ, with some individuals feeling relaxed or energized, while others may experience drowsiness. It’s worth noting that symptoms could potentially worsen before showing signs of improvement.

    Explore How Acupuncture Can Possibly Work for Your Back Pain

    If you’re seeking relief from back pain and are curious about alternative treatments, consider acupuncture as a viable option. With its potential for pain reduction, minimal side effects, and compatibility with other treatments, acupuncture offers a unique approach to managing back pain. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional and explore the benefits and costs of acupuncture as part of your journey towards better health and well-being.