Psychological Factors Affect Acupuncture for Back Pain

A new study has found that people with back pain who have low expectations of acupuncture before they start a course of treatment will gain less benefit than those people who believe it will work.

Researchers from the University of Southampton also found that people who feel in control of their condition experience less back-related disability over the course of acupuncture treatment.

Psychological Factors Affect Acupuncture Treatment of Back PainFor her study, Dr. Felicity Bishop, an Arthritis Research UK career development fellow, recruited 485 people who were being treated by acupuncturists.

Each completed questionnaires before they started treatment, then two weeks, three months, and six months later. The questionnaires measured psychological factors, clinical and demographic characteristics and back-related disability.

“The analysis showed that psychological factors were consistently associated with back-related disability,” said Bishop. “People who started out with very low expectations of acupuncture — who thought it probably would not help them — were more likely to report less benefit as treatment went on.”

However, when patients came to see their back pain more positively, they experienced less back-related disability, she continued.

“In particular, they experienced less disability over the course of treatment when they came to see their back pain as more controllable, when they felt they had better understanding of their back pain, when they felt better able to cope with it, were less emotional about it, and when they felt their back pain was going to have less of an impact on their lives,” she said.

Acupuncture is one of the most established forms of complementary therapy, according to the researcher. There is evidence from clinical trials to show that it can help to reduce pain, she noted.

Previous research has established that many factors play a part in the effectiveness of acupuncture, including the relationship that the patient develops with the acupuncturist and the patient’s belief about acupuncture.

To improve the effectiveness of treatment, Bishop recommends that acupuncturists consider helping patients to think more positively about their back pain as part of their consultations.

Future studies are needed to test whether this could significantly improve patients’ treatment outcomes, she added.

The study, funded by Arthritis Research UK, was published in The Journal of Clinical Pain.

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