Ear Acupuncture May East Inflammation in Chronic Low Back Pain

I was reading on a study published in 2014 in the journal Medical Acupuncture where they were trying to figure out how ear acupuncture helps low back pain.  They thought it may have to do with inflammation, so they did blood tests for inflammation markers before treatment, 30 minutes after the first treatment, and every week for 4 weeks.  They concluded that ear acupuncture probably helps back pain by reducing inflammation.

Here’s the abstract:

Function of Auricular Point Acupressure in Inducing Changes in Inflammatory Cytokines During Chronic Low-Back Pain: A Pilot Study
Yeh Chao Hsing, Chien Lung Chang, Albers Kathryn M., Ren Dianxu, Huang Li Chun, Cheng Baoxia, Margolis Leah, Liu Richard, and Suen Lorna Kwai-Ping.

Medical Acupuncture. February 2014, 26(1): 31-39. doi:10.1089/acu.2013.1015.

Background: Auricular therapy is a promising treatment for pain. However, the physiologic mechanisms of analgesic effects are not well-understood, which limits the scientific credibility of auricular therapy for pain management.

Objectives: This prospective, randomized clinical trial (RCT) was conducted to determine whether or not the levels of pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines change in response to auricular point acupressure (APA) for chronic low-back pain (CLBP).

Methods: Blood samples (10 mL) were collected in a vacutainer, based on standard phlebotomy procedures. Blood was drawn at the following timepoints: before APA treatment to measure the baseline; 30 minutes after the first APA treatment; weekly for 4 weeks; and within 1 month of a follow-up visit (a total of seven timepoints) for each subject).

Results: Participants with CLBP reported a mean 70% reduction of pain intensity at the completion of the 4-week APA regimen. The participants also had changes in serum pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. In particular, interleukin (IL)-1β, IL-4, and IL-10 were decreased. IL-2, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α were increased. In contrast, the participants who were in the sham APA group, with a 29% pain reduction, had a different profile. In particular, I-L2, IL-4, and TNF-α were decreased. IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-10 were increased. IL-1β, IL-2, IL-6, and IL-10 levels were associated with the worst pain intensity score, suggesting that these cytokines had an important role in mediating the APA effect on CLBP.

Conclusions: The changes in cytokine levels in response to APA treatment suggested that APA could influence the level of circulating cytokines in patients with CLBP.

Journal Abstract