Acupressure is more effective in reducing lower back pain than standard physical therapies, a study suggests.
Back pain affects 17 million people in the UK
Researchers in Taiwan found the effects of the therapy which involves applying pressure on points stimulated by acupuncture lasted for six months.
They gave 129 patients six doses of either acupressure or physical therapy over a month and compared the results.
The study in the BMJ Online also found those who had acupressure had improved body function and were less disabled.
Those in the physical therapy group were given routine therapies such as spinal manipulation, heat therapy and electrical stimulation as well as exercise.
The acupressure group received sessions using a uniform technique.
The research team from the Institute of Preventive Medicine at the National Taiwan University in Taipei questioned all patients on their symptoms before the treatment and afterwards, and then again six months later.
They asked them how much pain they were in, whether it interfered with work and how many days off they had had.
They also asked how much their sleep was disturbed and how satisfied they were.
Combination of therapies
The team found acupressure resulted in an 89% reduction in disability compared to physical therapy.
They also found those in the acupressure group reported greater benefits in terms of leg pain, interference with work and days off from work or school.
Dr Graham Chandler, an adviser to the Institute of Complementary Medicine, said the findings already confirmed what many in his field knew.
"We find that acupressure is very effective in treating back pain generally, but it is not as effective as acupuncture.
"We would agree that it is better than physiotherapy for back pain but not all physical therapies.
"Acupressure is best used in combination with Chinese physical therapies and with techniques that teach the muscles to regain the original shape they had before injury."
A spokeswoman for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy said experts recognised that offering one form of intervention in isolation will rarely solve the problem.
"Physiotherapists will assess their patients and draw up a treatment program for their specific condition and lifestyle, which may combine several techniques including manual therapies, appropriate exercises and in some cases acupressure.
"It is important that patients are educated in the cause of their problems and how they can self-manage their symptoms.
"This research offers further confirmation of the benefits physiotherapy intervention can bring to patients with lower back pain."
Back pain affects approximately 17.3 million people in the UK - over one third of the adult population.
For around 3 million people their pain lasts throughout the year.