Stab your pain away

I recently ran into someone recovering from surgery for chronic back pain. Turns out he didn't try much else -- first drugs, then the scalpel.

"You didn't give acupuncture a shot?" I asked.

"No way," he said (still in pain, by the way). "I'm afraid of needles!"

Now, I get why you might have some reservations about turning yourself into a human pincushion. But a few needles are way better than a scalpel -- and they work better, too.

After all, surgery has a low success rate, especially for chronic conditions such as back pain.

Acupuncture, on the other hand, regularly comes up aces in studies -- including a new look at data from 29 high-quality clinical trials involving some 18,000 people battling various forms of chronic pain such as back, neck and shoulder pain, osteoarthritis, and headaches.

Most of the studies compared the pins-and-needles approach to "usual" care such as drugs, as well as a sham treatment that looks like acupuncture, but isn't.

Do I even need to tell you how it turned out?

Overall, the real acupuncture cut pain levels in half when measured on a standard 100-point scale. Fake acupuncture cut those levels by 43 percent, while "usual" care managed a pathetic 30 percent improvement.

That's right -- even "fake" acupuncture managed to beat "real" medicine!

If that's not an indictment of modern pain management, I don't know what is -- especially when it's beaten so handily by a drug-free treatment that's thousands of years old.

The Chinese will tell you acupuncture works by doing something to the energy fields in your body. That sounds a little like New Age (or ancient age) mumbo-jumbo to me -- but it's pretty clear there's something going on here, even if (modern) science can't fully explain it.

So if you're battling pain, go get poked. And if you're afraid of needles, get it over it.

They're a heckuva lot better than a surgeon's blade.