Healthy Evidence
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I've had back pain for several years now. At first, I believed that it was growing pain (I'm a young adult) or sports injury, but it has only got worse. About 18 months ago, I visited my GP, who told me that I had scoliosis and referred me to a spinal consultant, who basically told me that it was just muscular and sent me to a physio. The exercises, though gentle, made it much worse. After my physio told me that she believed my symptoms had changed, I was sent back to my GP, who tested me for arthritis, which I did not have, and then treated me for a condition that involved the over activity of the nerves in my back, but this did not relieve my pain. I have now been referred to a rheumatologist, but I was also told that it might be worth investigating acupuncture of chiropractic. Recently, I have become very nervous of people touching my back, and so I've ruled out chiropractic medicine, but acupuncture could be an option. When my mother was about my age, she had similar problems and had acupuncture, but she found the acupuncture was very painful and unhelpful. Is it worth trying it?

29 Replies

I met someone with ankolising scoliosis a long time ago who gave a talk on it. She said she had tried Bowen Therapy which had been fantastic. Perhaps you could look at that as a posibility too.


I have had acupuncture for migraine, it worked well at the time but did not have a lasting effect. It was not painful even though I had lots of needles in my face!

My husband had treatment for leg pain from a Bowen therapist, it was amazing how it worked but alas was not long lasting.

I hope you find something that works.


Hi, I am no expert on this type of problem, but I was wondering if it is worth trying craniosacral therapy? It is a very, very gentle and relaxing treatment that might be right for you, given how nervous you are of someone touching your back. Have a look at the website for more details. Good luck!


This would be worth a read

I would also read up carefully on other proposed "therapies" to see if there is any actual evidence, as opposed to anecdote, before you pay good money. Ask why if a "therapy" really works and is claimed to be completely safe it isn't used by the NHS. And if someone suggests its a conspiracy by "big Pharma" question the reality of that too.


Had a look at the web site. It is not reliable and as bad as pseudo science.

Acupuncture works for some people and does not work for others. There are sound reasons for this. Trials on the reliability of Acupuncture are often flawed because more than one person may have the same symptoms. However the causes for the symptoms may be different in each person. So the acupuncture treatment given to person may be the wrong treatment because the treatment does not match the cause the treatment has been found to work for.


You are entitled to your opinion but that explanation sounds very convenient to explain any result that doesn't fit your expectations. What good published evidence is there to support your anecdotal opinion? I haven't seen any. The best evidence suggests there is no proof of efficacy as written in the article. To call it pseudoscience is a bit rich it all relates to evidence not anecdote.

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Thanks for reply. I have got an honours degree in Science. Have spent over ten years working in quality and reliability working with statistics.

I discuss research with researchers on a regular basis as well as read Nature, Scientific American etc..

There are loads of articles of proper scientific nature which shows that acupuncture works in certain conditions. It is used in China and other places when people are having surgery instead of anaesthetic. This has been written up in the scientific literature.

Certain conditions does not mean all conditions.

I know from my own experience that acupressure points work very effectively for toothache.


Great appeal to authority cuts no ice with me or anyone else with any sense.

If you want to play trumps I raise you a PhD in biology and 35 years in medical research but ultimately it's the evidence that matters not qualifications. All you offer is anecdote, that's a common tactic of promoters of quackery. The overwhelming evidence is for no effect.

If you claim to have a scientific background why would you make a schoolboy error and use N=1 anecdotes e.g. "I know from my own experience that acupressure points work very effectively for toothache." . You can claim what you want but that doesn't constitute any form of proof.

So cite some good quality repeatable controlled studies demonstrating what you claim.


You are right it does not offer any formal evidence of proof.

I have my experience on acupressure and that is proof enough for me.

All the work done by the Chinese and others obviously has past you by. You are more than able to look up papers yourself.

"All you offer is anecdote". A lot of people have put there money and found that it has worked for them and a lot of people have put there money and found it has not worked for them.

There is an old saying I think attributed to Neils Bohr I think. New theories come about not because they are better, but because the advocates of the old theories die out.

I can still remember the time when medical researchers where saying chiropractic was quackery in the UK. Then came the trails in 1991 which showed that it had benefit.

Many people are used to the saying that something is anecdotal and hence is quackery being said by medical researchers. I have met this quite a lot.

To quote NHS choices:

"Currently, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic lower back pain, chronic tension-type headaches and migraines. NICE makes these recommendations on the basis of scientific evidence."

Acupuncture anesthesia for open heart surgery in contemporary China.

I could go and dig out a lot more evidence.

Accupuncture is not my field. So I am not able to discuss the how and why it works.

I know in the field that I have a lot of knowledge that medical research cannot be done effectively because of the lack of ability to measure processes accurately. Many researchers tell me if we cannot measure something we do not write papers on it.


Hi John Smith

This is a very concerning statement by a self-professed statistics-literate science-graduate:

"I have my experience on acupressure and that is proof enough for me."

You have perhaps heard of the 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' fallacy (or 'after this therefore because of this'). I'm not saying I've never been tempted to say or believe something based on personal experience, but I do use this as a 'red flag' that I may be duping myself. If on the other hand I am able to cite robust scientific-evidence for a belief, then I generally don't find myself using personal experience (I mean, why would I?).

You also know that the study you cite for acupuncture in cardiac surgery was actually a study into acupuncture as an adjunct to benzodiazepines and opioid analgesia. So still some way to go there.



You say: "I generally don't find myself using personal experience (I mean, why would I?).2

Is that not the problem.

You say: "You also know that the study you cite for acupuncture in cardiac surgery was actually a study into acupuncture as an adjunct to benzodiazepines and opioid analgesia. So still some way to go there."

However it was done.

As I said before acupuncture is not my field of great knowledge.


I'm not sure what you mean here? And by the way, acupuncture isn't my area either.



Saying that, I think I mispoke slightly. I might use personal experience in addition to decent evidence, but not nearly as much (at least in so far as making a case for a particular approach).



I pinched a nerve in my lower back many years ago (most likely the sciatic nerve), trying to lift something I shouldn't have (my car).

In any case, for years I had major problems, muscle spasms mostly. V. painful. Then I saw an ancient Chinese acupuncturist in Johannesburg (of all places) and he beat me up real good! A mixture of painful massage and electrically-stimulated acupuncture and since then (about10 yrs ago) I've had very few problems.

But don't waste your money on a chiropracter! One big ripoff.


I have been using a chiropractor for over 20 years. I have a condition that cannot be cured. The chiropractor treatment enables me to function. It keeps keep my condition from being worse than it otherwise would be.

Chiropractor treatment depends on the sensitivity of the chiropractor. So the effect of the chiropractor treatment will vary from chiropractor to chiropractor.


Again John Smith, you appear to be interpreting your anecdotal evidence to support your belief that different chiropractic treatments, delivered by different chiropractors, work for different conditions, in different people. In a world where many physical conditions wax and wain, and/or are self-limiting, and where people try a range of treatments - often at once - and individual lifestyles change, and people respond to placebo/nocebo effects in different ways, you should expect to do anything to individuals and their health to take different trajectories for reasons entirely unrelated to the underlying claims of your 'treatment'. Unfortunately it is not within your gift to divine what is true fit between treatment, condition and person, and what isn't (and what may even be delusion). That is the job of probabalist robust clinical science.


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Probabalist robust clinical science has a history of leaving many people injured. “Bad Pharma” ISBN 978-0-00-735074-2 a book written by Ben Goldacre

“Cracked” ISBN: 9781848315563 a book written by James Davies Senior Lecturer Social Anthropology and Psychotherapy at The University of Roehampton (London UK) details some of the misleading and dishonest research results that have been presented in Professional Journals and conferences.

There is a lot of evidence given in Nature, BMJ , new scientist that some of the so called clinical trials have fraudulent results.

"anecdotal evidence" is often a means used to hide lack of knowledge.

I know my own experience and I have discussed the experience of others. You are entitled to explore the field of chiropractic by experiencing it. You cannot understand it from books, because books are incapable of describing much of it.


Thanks for this Johnsmith.

I think you may have missed the thrust of Goldacre’s entire thesis. He is claiming that the fraudulent practices of Big Pharma do not represent robust clinical science. He is arguing that people are injured by clinicians unknowingly working from a deliberately distorted evidence-base. He is arguing for higher scientific standards through better and more transparent clinical research (i.e. more robust clinical science, not less). I am confident that at no point will you find Goldacre supporting your (apparent) view that personal anecdote provides a possible antidote to Big Pharma corruption.

“I know my own experience and I have discussed the experience of others. You are entitled to explore the field of chiropractic by experiencing it. You cannot understand it from books, because books are incapable of describing much of it.”

This appears to be an additional appeal to mystery (i.e. if I believe what can’t be proven or explained, then maybe ‘proving’ and ‘explaining’ aren’t so important after all). And actually, chiropractic textbooks do seek to describe its practices, and in great detail. I wonder if you would accept the appeal to anecdote and mystery so readily if adopted by Big Pharma in protecting profits in the face increasingly negative SSRI antidepressant data (for instance): “The effectiveness of SSRIs isn’t captured in books and journals, you should experience their effects yourself and make your own mind up.”


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Thanks for the reply.

You miss the point as well. The researcher claims they have done a robust clinical trial. The person cannot check for themselves whether this is true or not.

Robust clinical trials in many cases do not give answers to the question will this work for me or not? Will the side effects of the treatment be greater than the benefits or will the benefits justify the side effects?

Particular every clinical trial that I know of does not answer this question. However, I do not get access to much clinical trial data.

Trials carefully select people. In the real world the participants of treatment may have multiple conditions. The selection for treatment is often not carefully done and robust clinical trials make no allowance for this fact.

Trial results are based on what instruments can measure. What the eyes and hands notice are ignored and are not recorded. So an Alexander Teacher can see the damage a drug is doing to some ones ability to move well. The instruments used to measure will report that the trial has no side effects.


Thanks for this Johnsmith.

I don’t disagree that RCTs are unable to identify which treatments will work for which specific individuals, but clinical studies are increasingly identifying smaller groups within groups. Genetic science seems to hold the key to answering questions about individual healthcare; not personal anecdote. The post hoc fallacy reminds us not to draw strong conclusions from personal experience, especially with complaints that are fluctuating, self-limiting and/or susceptible to placebo effects. (For instance, if your arm grew back following a 6 week course of chiropractic, we should all sit up a listen whilst retaining our scepticism that something else might be at play.)

I disagree with your interpretation of Bad Pharma’s central argument though. I do not recall Goldacre ever arguing that clinical science is so riddled with fraud that its methods are futile. You are right that the scientific method is unable to screen out deliberate fraud and dishonesty (although there are statistical techniques that can give a good indication of publication bias); but neither does personal anecdote. This is why Goldacre is arguing for more transparency and better clinical science (not less clinical science), and even a potential moratorium on new studies whilst we replicate the old ones. If you read Bad Science, you will get a sense that Goldacre strongly discourages us from drawing strong conclusions for ours or others’ apparent responses to unevidence-based treatments. So to summarise, yes, clinical science isn’t yet perfect, but to think this is solved by raising the status of personal anecdote, is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

And I agree, we shouldn’t blithely follow the results of clinical science, and assume that well-evidence-based treatments will always do more good than harm. If your medication side-effects are more unbearable that your illness experience, or you would prefer quality of life over quantity, then there are very personal and important conversations to be had with health professionals about your treatment options. Again, the fact that few medications are side-effect free, isn’t an endorsement of unevidence-based treatments.

I think I may be repeating myself here, so wonder if we will end up agreeing to disagree here.


P.S. When I'm talking negatively about 'personal anecdote', I am referring to using it as an endorsement of unevidence-based (and often implausible) treatments, or those that continue to exist despite negative evidence-bases. If you say you can't tolerate Larium, then we should listen to you, but not respond by recommending homeopathic anti-malarials...if that makes sense??



The whole thing is complex. So it is often a case of not agreeing or disagreeing, but of looking to determine to find out what works for you.

As an ex eczema sufferer I have had to meet the ignorance of the medical way of doing things from quite a young age.

The results of trials show that they work for some people and do not work for others. Doctors have not taken this on board. Each treatment is a clinical experiment that the patient being treated should engage in. This often does not happen.

Bad Pharma was a game changer. Before the book came out consultants did not talk about patients where treatments failed, now they do. This is my experience listening to some of the lectures I have attended. I have not attended enough lectures to put a hard and fast rule on it.

Genetics I think is potentially a red herring to cover up what actually happens. Weaknesses that make more susceptible to something does not necessarily mean that that something will happen. A number of factors must be in place for that something to happen.

My eczema was caused by a lack of skin oil being produced. Evening primrose oil tablets sorted out the problem. It took me years to recover from the damage that look term use of steroid creams did. So you see I have a distrust of so called robust clinical trials.

My lack of producing skin oil laid me susceptible to itching caused by things on the skin. Producing the skin oil removed the itching problem. I also found that mild bleach stopped the itching I had. A lot of dermatologists rubbished the idea that mild bleach could stop the itching. A trial was eventually done which showed that mild bleach was an effective agent for treating skin problems. So you see I was doing trials on myself to try and solve a problem. A problem which the medical profession was incompetent at solving.

The trials that I did on myself may not fall under the category of being robust, but they solved a problem. Patients did to learn the capability of doing these sort of trials with the help of the medical profession.

I have done similar trials with chiropractic and Alexander Technique. What I have done may not fall under the robust category, but were good enough to determine if they worked or not and under what circumstances did they work.

Anyway I think I will stop for now.


Thanks Johnsmith.


This is a suck it and see. Different things work for different people. Partly because different conditions can all have the same symptoms and it is difficult to determine what the true cause is.

As you are very sensitive about your back you are going to need to see a practitioner of at least ten years experience. I use McTimony chiropractic. It is very gentle compared to standard chiropractic treatment.

I have no experience of acupuncture so I cannot comment on this. Have used accupressure to reduce someone's tooth ache pain. And have used the appropriate acupressure points to reduce pain in the testicles after receiving a blow there.

Alexander Technique may be helpful.

Hope this helps


Get in touch with the National Back Pain Association (check the title). I had a shoulder problem and we tried acupuncture in my arm. Ouch! It didn't work. By that I mean that the problem did not go away. Various scans demonstrated the source of the problem and I had an operation. It was two years before the problem almost cleared up. Can't use my experience to evaluate accupuncture. A friend found that the procedure was very effective for his problem. My guess is that acupuncture can be beneficial in particular conditions but then so much "evidence" is anecdotal. I suspect that there can be a powerful placebo effect associated with acupuncture. (Nothing wrong with the placebo effect). The thing is that the placebo effect is a cultural phenomenon. If you deeply believe in acupunture as it is claimed for the Chinese then the placebo effect will be dominant. If you have never been exposed to Western medicine then being dosed with placebo medication will have no effect as you would not be cultural conditioned. I do hope that your problem is more thoroughly investigated and that remedial action can be taken. I'm sorry to say that Doctors do tend to give up on back pain partly because they often don't have a clue.


Acupuncture is the first chooses for lower back pain. But acupuncture is only half of the treatment. After needles must followed by some cupping and Chinese Tuina massage. It always works very well.


Be patient to overcome from this patiant stage. Because each and ever the painful experience will come our before birth sinworks as the curse of fate. But if we surrender to GOD whateveritmabe he/she will pick up from the pains . Let us hope that the twins of happy and sorrows are not craitaria of a existence.The posotive thinking and the yogic transidental meditativestate will sve us.let"s hope that sick condidion may cure through the painful treatments. Don't bother,love the problems.


I also have scoliosis, a side effect of neurofibromatosis, I have been going to a chiropractor for many years which has relieved a lot of the pain. I recently had two prolapsed discs, the pain could not be fully relieved by the chiropractor. He suggested acupuncture due to strain on my back muscles, my back is still 'twisting' which was an immediate relief, obviously getting to the source of the problem as far as that was concerned. Acupuncture mainly relieves muscle pain so is excellent for strain on the out of joint skeleton. I also recommend a chiropractor although not fully recognized by the N.H.S. is excellent for people in 'our' condition.


I have seen my chiropractor for years for many different reasons. He also does acupuncture. For me fantastic , which I think I would not be able to do the things I do now if it wasn't for him. I now swim, dance ceroc (type of jive), ballroom dancing and keep fit. I am in my sixties and love life, and thank my chiropractor.


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