American College of Physicians: Acupuncture preferred treatment for low back pain over drugs

News came out last week in the updated clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians (ACP) that recommends acupuncture and other alternative therapies such as massage and yoga as the preferred therapy for low back pain over drugs.

In response to the opioid crisis happening in America currently, there has been a growing interest in alternative therapies doctors can recommend their patients for pain.  According ACP Clinical Guideline Committee member,  Amir Qaseem, there is moderate-quality evidence to suggest that chronic pain can be eased with exercise, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, acupuncture and mindful stress reduction. Similar results were observed in lower-quality studies regarding Tai Chi, yoga, progressive relaxation, laser therapy and spinal manipulation.

The recommendation then goes on to say that if these fail to ease chronic pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be considered. This is a change from the ACP’s previous recommendation in 2007 for acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) as it has been deemed ineffective for acute pain due to new evidence. Clinicians should only consider opioids as a last resort if other therapies fail.

The editorial accompanying the new ACP guidelines is hopeful this will give physicians a new “menu of evidence-based non-pharmacologic treatments to offer their patients” and is hopeful insurance will begin paying for these therapies based on the official recommendation, but highlights a few problems with prioritizing alternative treatments: limited availability and affordability.


Community Acupuncture has been very successful in Asia, but is a relatively new model in the United States that is slowly gaining momentum. Instead of trying to fit acupuncture into a spa model that has become the norm, community acupuncture takes advantage of the time a patient spends resting with the needles in to maximize patient volume, thus driving down costs for all patients and making acupuncture affordable and accessible for everyone.

The history of community acupuncture started in Portland in 2002, when Lisa Rohleder and Skip Van Meter opened Working Class Acupuncture (then Window of the Sky) based on the way acupuncture was practiced in many Asian hospitals: in a group setting so as to serve as many people as possible. They saw that acupuncture was unattainable for some people, even though it is one of the safest and least expensive treatment modalities for many common ailments like back pain and migraines, that if not severe, fell under the radar in a traditional doctor’s office. In 2006 Lisa published The Remedy: Integrating Acupuncture into American Healthcare, that discussed social entrepreneurship and affordable acupuncture. By the end of 2006, there were 11 clinic in the US practicing community acupuncture, today there are over 200 clinics nationwide providing community acupuncture.

Instead of a single acupuncturist seeing a couple of people an hour for a full 8 hour day, community acupuncture clinics are staffed with multiple acupuncturists, offering expanded hours, seeing anywhere from 6-8 patients an hour. Here at Milwaukee Community Acupuncture on a full day we typically see upwards of 75 people per day.

It is our pleasure to serve our community and help so many people attain their health and wellness goals. We are confident that as time progresses more and more doctors will feel confident and comfortable recommending acupuncture to their patients, and maybe even try it themselves.