Medical Research

Autonomic Nervous System:Acupuncture and Low Back Pain

Kristen Sparrow • February 11, 2012

This study evaluates the autonomic nervous system (stress response) in patients with low back pain comparing electroacupuncture (10 sessions) and an antiinflammatory medication. What they found was that both groups had pain relief, but the acupuncture group more so. There was an improvement in the stress response in the acupuncture group also. (For info on my practice please click here.)

Autonomic status and pain profile in patients of chronic low back pain and following electro acupuncture therapy: a randomized control trial.
Shankar N, Thakur M, Tandon OP, Saxena AK, Arora S, Bhattacharya N.Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Jan-Mar;55(1):25-36.
Department of Physiology, University College of Medical Sciences and Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, Delhi.

Pain is a syndrome characterized by several neurophysiological changes including that of the autonomic nervous system. Chronic low back pain (LBP) is a major health problem and is a frequent reason for using unconventional therapies especially acupuncture. This study was conducted to evaluate the autonomic status and pain profile in chronic LBP patients and to observe the effect of electro acupuncture therapy. Chronic LBP patients (n=60) were recruited from the Department of Orthopaedics, GTB Hospital, Delhi. Age and sex matched healthy volunteers were selected as controls (n=30). Following a written consent, LBP patients were randomly allocated into two study groups – Group A received 10 sittings of electro acupuncture, on alternate days, at GB and UB points selected for back pain, while the Group B received a conventional drug therapy in the form of oral Valdecoxib together with supervised physiotherapy. Controls were assessed once while the patients were assessed twice, before and after completion of the treatment program (3 weeks). The autonomic status was studied with non-invasive cardiovascular autonomic function tests which included E: I ratio, 30:15 ratio, postural challenge test and sustained handgrip test. Pain intensity was measured with the visual analogue scale (VAS) and the global perceived effect (GPE). Statistical analysis was performed using repeated measure’s ANOVA with Tukey’s test. Pain patients showed a significantly reduced vagal tone and increased sympathetic activity as compared to the controls (P<0.05 to P<0.001 in different variables). Following treatment, both the study groups showed a reduction in vagal tone together with a decrease in the sympathetic activity. There was also a considerable relief of pain in both groups, however, the acupuncture group showed a better response (P<0.01). We conclude that there is autonomic dysfunction in chronic LBP patients. Acupuncture effectively relieves the pain and improves the autonomic status and hence can be used as an alternative/additive treatment modality in these cases.