To investigate patient characteristics and outcomes after undergoing acupuncture treatment for chronic low back pain (cLBP) in Germany and to analyze chronification, pain grading, and depression as predictors for treatment outcomes.
Patients and Methods
Patients with cLBP (ICD-10 diagnoses M54.4 or M54.5) who underwent acupuncture therapy (mean number of sessions 8.7±2.9) within the framework of a reimbursement and research program sponsored by German statutory sickness funds were included in an observational study. Patients were asked to complete detailed questionnaires that included questions on intensity and frequency of pain and instruments measuring functional ability, depression, and quality of life (SF-36) before and after treatment and 6 months after beginning acupuncture. Participating physicians assessed pain chronification in patients.
A total of 2564 patients (mean age 57.7±14.0 y, 78.7% female), who were treated by 1607 physicians, were included in the main analysis. After 6 months (6-mo follow-up), 45.5% of patients demonstrated clinically significant improvements in their functional ability scores. The mean number of days with pain was decreased by half (from 21 to 10 d/mo). Employed patients (employed patient subgroup analysis) reported a 30% decrease from baseline in days of work lost. In all, 8.1% of patients reported adverse events, the majority of which were minor. Subgroup analyses focusing on pain severity, stage of chronification, and depression revealed statistically significant relationships both to baseline measures and to reduction of pain after acupuncture.
Acupuncture treatment is associated with clinically relevant improvements in patients suffering from cLBP of varying degrees of chronification and/or severity.