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Randomised controlled trial comparing the effectiveness of electroacupuncture and tens for low back pain: a preliminary study for a pragmatic trial
  1. Hiroshi Tsukayama, acupuncturist1,
  2. Hitoshi Yamashita, acupuncturist, assistant professor2,
  3. Hitoshi Amagai, orthopaedic surgeon3,
  4. Yasuo Tanno, physician (kampo medicine), professor emeritus4
  1. 1
    associate professor
  2. 2
    Tsukuba College of Technology Clinic, Tsukuba City, Japan
  3. 3
    Department of Orthopaedics, Keiyu Hospital, Moriya, Japan
  4. 4
    Tsukuba College of Technology Clinic, Tsukuba City, Japan
  1. tsukayama{at}


The objective of this study was to compare the effectiveness of electroacupuncture and TENS for low back pain when the electroacupuncture is applied in a clinically realistic manner. The study was designed as an evaluator-blinded randomised controlled trial (RCT). The study was performed at the Tsukuba College of Technology Clinic in Japan. Twenty subjects, who suffered from low back pain (LBP) without sciatica, were recruited, using leaflets in Tsukuba city. Subjects were allocated to either an electroacupuncture (EA) group (10 patients) or a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) group (10 patients). The procedure for EA was in accordance with standard practice at our clinic. The main outcome measures were a pain relief scale (100mm visual analogue scale: VAS) and a LBP score recommended by the Japanese Orthopaedic Association (JOA Score). Mean VAS value during the 2-weeks experimental period of the EA group was significantly smaller than that of the TENS group (65mm vs 86mm; 95% CI, 4.126 – 37.953). JOA Score in the EA group improved significantly while that in the TENS group showed no change. Although some placebo effect may be included, EA appeared more useful than TENS in the short-term effect on low back pain. We suggest that more realistic acupuncture interventions based on standard practice should be employed in pragmatic RCTs.

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