Healthcare: On the agenda - Back pain helped by acupuncture

In a nutshell

Patients with persistent lower back pain should be offered acupuncture, according to new guidance issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). The guidelines cover those who have been in pain longer than six weeks but less than one year.

Why is this significant?

It is the first time NICE has backed widespread use of 'alternative' therapies. For the first time there is a consistent national approach to managing lower back pain. The rationing watchdog said alternative therapies would be cost-effective if doctors stopped providing less proven back services such as X-rays.

What does NICE suggest?

The guidelines suggest that in addition to painkillers and advice to stay active, patients can opt for complementary treatments. These include up to eight exercise sessions or ten sessions of acupuncture; or manual therapy, which includes spinal manipulation, mobilisation or massage.

Media coverage

The story was picked up by most of the national press including The Guardian, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which ran with the headline: 'Six-week wait for back treatment'. It was also covered by BBC Breakfast, Channel 4 and Five news and the BBC Health website.

PR support

The press release was issued under embargo to all national media outlets, including medical and specialist press. It was sent by NICE's internal PR team, led by external communications manager Tonya Gillis. An embargoed press conference was held earlier in the week.

33% of adults in the UK suffer from back pain each year

2.5m people seek help from their GP for back pain.

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