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Practice Guidelines

Low back pain and sciatica: summary of NICE guidance

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: (Published 06 January 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:i6748
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As always David Colquhoun brings us a breath of fresh air. It really is extraordinary that, in the 21st century, we should still be discussing the merits of acupuncture.

It was banned in China in 1929, and resuscitated in 1949 when Chairman Mao sought a pragmatic solution to a political problem. A revival of ancient Chinese medicine allowed him to offer a form of health care to the vast rural population of a country where most of doctors trained in 20th century medicine worked in the cities.

Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972 opened up China to the West and acupuncture, with its manikins, Qi channels, golden needles, and evocation of the mysterious Orient, seemed custom-tailored for seekers after alternative healing. The fervour which helped it conquer the West was generated predictably in California.

One evening in 1976 I visited my friend Ralph Schafferzick at St Michael’s Hospital in San Francisco. His last patient had been a woman from Chinatown whose symptoms weren't serious but irksome and hadn’t responded to a variety of treatments. As a last resort, he ‘d suggested they might try acupuncture.

His patient waxed mightily indignant. ‘Acupuncture is very good for Americans visiting China,’ she said. ‘No good for a Chinese woman living in San Francisco’.

Competing interests: No competing interests

24 February 2017
Michael O'Donnell
Former GP. Journeyman writer.