Yoga is a more effective treatment for chronic lower back pain than conventional GP care, according to the UK’s largest ever study into its benefits. The trial involved 313 people who were receiving GP care for chronic back pain. Participants were randomised to receive usual care alone, or usual care plus 12 weeks of group yoga classes specially designed for those with lower back pain. The results showed that the yoga group had better back function at three, six and 12 months compared with the usual care group. Around 60% of people in the yoga group continued with their practice after the end of the classes. (Yoga for chronic low back pain: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2011 Nov 1;155(9):569-78). In another study from the USA, 228 adults with chronic low back pain were randomised to 12 weekly classes of yoga, conventional stretching exercises or a self-care book. Yoga was found to be more effective in improving function and reducing symptoms than self-care (-2.5 versus -1.1 points on a 23-point disability scale), but not more effective than stretching (at six, 12 and 26 weeks). (A Randomized Trial Comparing Yoga, Stretching, and a Self-care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Dec 12;171(22):2019-26).

Patients with low-back pain (LBP) are less likely to visit physicians for their problem after receiving acupuncture treatment, which leads to reduced healthcare pending on LBP. In a case control study carried out in Canada, 201 cases in which LBP was treated with acupuncture were compared with 804 controls. Each acupuncture group case was matched with four comparison cases from the general population with LBP, based on gender and age. The number of physician visits for the one-year period post-acupuncture decreased 49% for the acupuncture group, compared with the one-year period pre-acupuncture. In the comparison group, there was a decrease of 2% in physician visits for the same time periods. The cost of LBP-related physician services showed corresponding decreases, declining by 37% for the acupuncture group and 1% for the comparison group. (Reduced health resource use after acupuncture for low-back pain. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Nov;17(11):1015-9).

A pilot study designed to test the feasibility of a randomised controlled trial comparing the effectiveness of two frequencies of acupuncture treatment for chronic low back pain (LBP) has found that clinical improvements achieved within the first two weeks were maintained at one year follow-up. Thirty participants with chronic LBP were randomised into two groups to receive 10 acupuncture treatments: a low frequency group (two treatments per week for five weeks) and a high frequency group, (five treatments per week for two weeks). Although there were no significant differences between the groups in terms of outcomes measured, the results showed that the clinically important improvements in pain, functional disability and quality of life in both groups were achieved within the first two weeks and were maintained at one-year follow-up. (Different frequencies of acupuncture treatment for chronic low back pain: an assessor-blinded pilot randomised controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2009 Jun;17(3):131-40).

Another result from the large multi-centre German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC), suggests that both real and sham acupuncture are much more effective against chronic low back pain than conventional therapy. The patient-and observer-blinded randomised controlled trial involved 340 outpatient practices, including 1162 patients aged 18-86 years (average 50) with a history of chronic low back pain lasting an average of eight years. This represents the largest experimental trial so far of acupuncture for back pain. Participants underwent ten 30-minute sessions (two per week), of verum acupuncture (according to TCM principles), sham acupuncture (superficial needling at nonacupuncture points on the lower back), or conventional therapy (a combination of drugs, physical therapy and exercise). The primary outcome measure was response after six months, defined as a 33% improvement on pain scores or a 12% improvement in functional ability. At six months, the response rate was 47.6% in the verum acupuncture group, 44.2% in the sham acupuncture group, and 27.4% in the conventional therapy group. The difference between response to real vs sham acupuncture was not significant, but both were almost twice as effective as conventional therapy. (German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for chronic low back pain: randomized, multicenter, blinded, parallel-group trial with 3 groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Sep 24;167(17):1892-8).

For more than 35 years, Audrey Telfer battled to overcome excruciating back pain. Conventional pills had failed her and, at the age of 67, the former finance manager yearned to enjoy her retirement without feeling drained of energy and worn down by constant pain.

She tried a course of physiotherapy which helped but when therapist Karen Dearden, of the Newcastle Sports injury Clinic, suggested acupuncture, the ancient Chinese treatment, she was more than a little sceptical.

But after a couple of 45 minute sessions, combined with 12 combinations of different herbs in powder form, she couldn’t believe the difference.

“The pain was really getting me down. I had tried painkillers but they didn’t work and I found I didn’t have the energy to do very much,” she said.

“But after a few treatments, people were telling me I looked so much better. It was a real tonic. Obviously I’m not cured – as well as back pain, I have asthma and arthritis – but the Chinese medicine has been a real tonic. It’s all about rebalancing the body’”

Acupuncturist Feras Jerjis believes people should take control of their own health and often recommends exercises that people can do in between sessions.

Acupuncture involves inserting fine metal needles in to any of 360 specially designated points on the body. It is used to relieve pain and treat all kinds of ailments by manipulating the body’s energy flow, called ‘chi’, allowing the body to balance and heal itself. Chi travels through the meridians in the body and where it becomes blocked or stagnant, disease or ill health can exist.

An acupuncturist will pinpoint a weakness in your chain of energy and treat it according to your symptoms. Chi enables the body to function and flows through invisible meridians, each of which is named after and related to an organ, including lungs, kidney, stomach, spleen or kidney. Meridians run through many parts of the body  and every point along a specific meridian will be disaffected by disharmony at other points. For example, the teeth are part of the stomach meridian. You should feel a tingling sensation when the needle penetrates the skin. If you feel nothing, it is unlikely the correct acupuncture point has been needled.

Mr Jerjis said: ”Insertion of the needles is painless and during the 20 to 30 minutes that the needles are in. people frequently experience a deep level of relaxation and can often fall asleep.”

The clinic is one of the very few centres in the North East where all five branches of traditional Chinese Medicine  (TCM) are practices with equal emphasis.

They include Tui Na Massage (Tweeno)  which involves deep tissue massage that concentrated on pressure points and joint mobilisation. Nick Hudis, the clinic’s Tui Na therapist said: “People may at first be wary of deep massage which at times can be painful but as chronic aches and pains drop away they are soon hooked.”

Diet therapy is one of the main foundations of traditional `Chinese Medicine, and based on the principal that poor eating habits and food that is too rich hampers digestion and causes ill health.

Qigong, pronounced Chee gung, is also practised at the clinic. It teaches slow gentle movements and as well as maintaining suppleness and calming the mind it is said to reduce high blood pressure, boost the immune system and regulate the metabolism. In China Qigong is popular among cancer patients.