Acupuncture may be better for chronic pain

An analysis of patient data from 29 randomized controlled trials suggests that acupuncture may be better than no acupuncture or sham acupuncture for the treatment of some chronic pain.

The individual patient data meta-analyses conducted by Andrew J. Vickers, D.Phil., of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, and colleagues used data from previously published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with a total of 17,922 patients from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Sweden. Researchers sought to determine the effect size of acupuncture for some chronic pain conditions.

“We found acupuncture to be superior to both no-acupuncture control and sham acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain,” the authors comment. “Although the data indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo, the differences between true and sham acupuncture are relatively modest, suggesting that factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors to therapeutic effects.”

Sham acupuncture in the trials included needles inserted superficially, devices with needles that retracted into the handle rather than penetrating the skin, and non-needle approaches such as deactivated electrical stimulation or detuned laser, according to the study.

The authors report that patients receiving acupuncture had less pain with scores that were 0.23, 0.16 and 0.15 SDs (standard deviations) lower than sham controls for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis and chronic headaches, respectively. The effect sizes in comparison to no-acupuncture controls were 0.55, 0.57 and 0.42 SDs, according to the study results.

“Our results from individual patient data meta-analyses of nearly 18,000 randomized patients in high-quality RCTs provide the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is a reasonable referral option for patients with chronic pain,” the authors conclude.

Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, USA



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