Acupuncture for Low Back Pain: An Overview of Systematic Reviews

Lizhou Liu, Margot Skinner, S M McDonough, Leon Mabire, George David Baxter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)
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As evidence of the effectiveness of acupuncture for low back pain (LBP) is inconsistent, we aimed to critically appraise the evidence from relevant systematic reviews.
Systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) concerning acupuncture and LBP were searched in seven databases. Internal validity and external validity of systematic reviews were assessed. Systematic reviews were categorized and high quality reviews assigned greater weightings. Conclusions were generated from a narrative synthesis of the outcomes of subgroup comparisons. Results. Sixteen systematic reviews were appraised. Overall, the methodological quality was low and external validity weak. For acute LBP, evidence that acupuncture has a more favorable effect than sham acupuncture in relieving pain was inconsistent; it had a similar effect on improving function. For chronic LBP, evidence consistently demonstrated that acupuncture provides short-term clinically relevant benefits for pain relief and functional improvement compared with no treatment or acupuncture plus another conventional intervention.
Systematic reviews of variable quality showed that acupuncture, either used in isolation or as an adjunct to conventional therapy, provides short-term improvements in pain and function for chronic LBP. More efforts are needed to improve both internal and external validity of systematic reviews and RCTs in this area.
Original languageEnglish
Article number328196
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalEvidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 4 Mar 2015


  • acupuncture
  • low back pain
  • overview of systematic reviews


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