Jamie Gisby

Back Pain

Back Pain

Back pain can affect anyone at any age and most people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. It is the UK’s leading cause of disability and one of the main reasons for work-related sickness absence.

The condition affects more than 1.1 million people in the UK, with 95% of patients suffering from problems affecting the lower back. Back pain currently costs the NHS and community care services more than £1 billion each year. Most lower back pain is caused not by serious damage or disease, but by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or a pinched or irritated nerve. It can also occur during pregnancy, or because of stress, viral infection or a kidney infection.

If you suffer from this condition it is really important too keep moving and active.  Long gone are the days when bed rest or lying on the floor was recommended.  I find acupuncture helps my patients to stay active and keep moving.  Physiotherapy is a great modality to use alongside of acupuncture to keep the back strong and mobile.

Acupuncture for Back Pain

In 2009 the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended that acupuncture should be made available on the NHS, as a cost-effective short-term treatment for the management of early, persistent non-specific lower back pain.  As of now NICE is reviewing this recommendation and is likely to not approve acupuncture for low back pain.  For a detailed analysis of the faults in NICE’s new guidelines please follow the link to a post by the redoubtable Mel Koppleman.

NICE has now decided to not recommend traditional acupuncture for back pain.  The British Acupuncture Council has produced a leaflet for patients on this topic which you can read below:

NICE Guidelines Patient information

What is a NICE guideline and does it matter to you and your acupuncturist?

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence publishes guidelines to help GPs and other NHS doctors choose the most appropriate or cost effective treatment for a clearly defined condition. The scientific process that they use was originally developed for a clearly defined single condition treated by a single intervention. However, this process is much more difficult to apply for conditions that may be only part of the patient’s overall health such as back pain or when the help to the patient is more complex such as the treatment provided by a traditional acupuncturist. These guidelines are reviewed on a regular basis or when there is demand for a newer, often more expensive treatment.

Guideline for lower back pain

In 2009 NICE published a guideline for the management of lower back pain that included traditional acupuncture as a recognised treatment of choice for patients. In the review that NICE have just published acupuncture is no longer explicitly recommended for NHS funded treatment. However, this does not change the effectiveness and the safety of the treatment that your traditional acupuncturist has provided and continues to provide.

Acupuncture regulation and professional guidelines

Your acupuncturist is regulated by the Professional Standards Authority and bound by the clinical and professional guidelines of the British Acupuncture Council. It is these frameworks of PSA regulation and the BAcC code of standards that are the key aspects that you need to be aware of in choosing your acupuncturist and the treatment that he or she offers. You can be confident in the treatment provided by an acupuncturist regulated by and who is a member of the British Acupuncture Council.

But why is the NICE guideline important?

We know, and you will probably have experienced yourself, that the NHS is often failing to provide a timely and efficient service in the current financial climate. Put simply, our GPs are struggling to provide primary care to people like us who are getting older and who are putting more and more demands upon the system with issues like back pain. The British Acupuncture Council strongly believes that in the current context it seems almost nonsensical to change the guidelines to potentially reduce patient choice and possibly restrict the available services. The British Acupuncture Council also believes that NICE have made a mistake in the science thus making the guideline change inappropriate anyway. The mistake relates to the fact that the acupuncture you receive is based on the eastern tradition of medicine and healing and therefore does not fit easily into the western methods employed to ‘measure’ treatments. The British Acupuncture Council can provide a full explanation of the scientific methodology and the way that the mistake has happened.

What you can do

If you feel strongly about this decision and its implications and wish to comment further then your best contact is your local MP. Please contact your personal acupuncturist or the British Acupuncture Council for more information and how you might go about this. British Acupuncture Council 63 Jeddo Road London W12 9HQ T: +44 (0)20 8735 0400 E: info@acupuncture.org.uk www.acupuncture.org.uk


The British Acupuncture Council has a fact sheet on back pain, click here.

New research finds acupuncture is an effective clinical treatment for sciatica.


Acupuncture for back pain