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By Dr. Jay Adlersberg

NEW YORK (WABC) — People who suffer with back pain often try many treatments to get relief–like acupuncture. Now, a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine looked at this ancient Chinese treatment as a way to help aching backs. The study found it worked better for chronic back pain than standard physical therapy and exercise. What’s not clear however is if the relief is permanent.

For sufferers like Elizabeth Dobney-Hoch acupuncture sometimes works almost immediately. But what caused her aches and pains is unclear.

“It was one of those things where I was sitting in the same position for a few hours and i got up and said “uh-oh,” said Elizabeth. .

She found relief from acupuncture when a month of standard physical therapy and exercise failed. Interestingly, the acupuncture study found the same thing: acupuncture compared to standard therapy worked better for cramped back muscles. .

“Going into tissue with needles allows the muscle to relax and release,” said acupuncturist Bianca Beldini. .

In addition, acupuncture may also release endorphins, natural pain killers. .

The acupuncture study looked at over 600 people and there was also an unexpected finding. Doctors used toothpicks, not needles, on the skin of one group of patients and they improved as much as those treated with acupuncture needles. .

If toothpicks work, does that mean acupuncture’s effect is all in head, just a placebo effect? There may be another explanation: the toothpicks may stimulate acupressure points. .

So for now, there’s no answer to how the needles work, or even if they do anything more than toothpicks, but just that toothpick touching itself may be healing. .

“There may be a place for that, it may be placebo like but if it reduces pain, it may have a place in medicine,” said Robert Gotlin with Beth Israel Medical Center. .

In just two acupuncture sessions, Elizabeth said her back muscles relaxed and the pain disappeared. The study authors concluded that acupuncture and other similar treatment can be better for back pain than standard methods, especially when the standard approach fails.