Acupuncture for chronic low back pain in older adults: Design and protocol for the BackInAction pragmatic clinical trial

Lynn L. DeBar, Morgan Justice, Andrew L. Avins, Andrea Cook, Carolyn M. Eng, Patricia M. Herman, Clarissa Hsu, Arya Nielsen, Alice Pressman, Katie L. Stone, Raymond Y. Teets, Robert Wellman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Back pain prevalence and burden increase with age; approximately one-third of U.S. adults 65 years of age and older experience lower back pain (LBP). For chronic low back pain (cLBP), typically defined as lasting three months or longer, many treatments for younger adults may be inappropriate for older adults given their greater prevalence of comorbidities with attendant polypharmacy. While acupuncture has been demonstrated to be safe and effective for cLBP in adults overall, few studies of acupuncture have either included or focused on adults ≥65 years old. Methods: The BackInAction study is a pragmatic, multi-site, three-arm, parallel-groups randomized controlled trial designed to test the effectiveness of acupuncture needling for improving back pain-related disability among 807 older adults ≥65 years old with cLBP. Participants are randomized to standard acupuncture (SA; up to 15 treatment sessions across 12 weeks), enhanced acupuncture (EA; SA during first 12 weeks and up to 6 additional sessions across the following 12 weeks), and usual medical care (UMC) alone. Participants are followed for 12 months with study outcomes assessed monthly with the primary outcome timepoint at 6 months. Discussion: The BackInAction study offers an opportunity to further understand the effectiveness, dose-dependence, and safety of acupuncture in a Medicare population. Additionally, study results may encourage broader adoption of more effective, safer, and more satisfactory options to the continuing over-reliance on opioid- and invasive medical treatments for cLBP among older adults. Trial registration: Identifier: NCT04982315. Clinical trial registration date: July 29, 2021.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107166
JournalContemporary Clinical Trials
StatePublished - May 2023


  • Acupuncture
  • Chronic low back pain
  • Older adults
  • Pragmatic clinical trial


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