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Health: Acupuncture in the UK 健康:针灸在英国
A pair of feet with acupuncture needles in them
Many acupuncture points are found in the feet
What is the single largest cause of sick leave in the UK?

The answer is not the common cold or flu, but back pain. Back pain affects one in three British adults, costs the country over £5bn every year and is notoriously difficult to treat.

But now Britain's National Health Service (NHS) will be offering a new solution: acupuncture.

The ancient Chinese needle therapy has been around in the UK for many years, but this is the first time it has been officially endorsed by the NHS's advisory body, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Traditionally, doctors in the UK have advised back pain sufferers to stay active, do stretching exercises and take painkillers when necessary. In more serious cases some people are given X-ray treatment or injections with therapeutic substances.

NICE, however, say there is evidence that acupuncture may be more effective than expensive X-rays or injections, so patients who have been suffering for over six weeks should be given a choice.

As an alternative to acupuncture, patients will be able to opt for either a course of spinal manipulation, or a series of special exercise sessions.

In the UK, acupuncture is classed as a complementary therapy, which is the term given to a medical procedure which hasn't been subjected to the strict trials by which scientists prove some treatments work.

While many experts have welcomed the move to make acupuncture available on the NHS, some are still sceptical about its effectiveness.

Research from the US earlier this month found that simulated acupuncture using toothpicks which do not pierce the skin could be as good as using real needles.

So while some are yet to be convinced, back pain sufferers will be hoping that acupuncture helps get them feeling healthy and mobile again. Employers, on the other hand, will be hoping it gets them back to work.

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