Published on 20 June 2017
Acupuncture is not a placebo for treatment of chronic pain. This NIHR-funded systematic review shows that acupuncture is better than usual care and sham acupuncture for pain from musculoskeletal conditions, knee osteoarthritis and chronic headache.
This NIHR review was large with over 140 trials overall, and the direct comparison with sham acupuncture helps to address uncertainty around whether acupuncture gives clinical benefit above a “placebo effect.” Acupuncture had a smaller effect on pain when compared with sham acupuncture than when compared with no acupuncture, but both comparisons showed statistically significant differences. Acupuncture also improved quality of life compared with standard care and was assessed to be a good use of NHS resources.
Acupuncture is currently recommended for the prevention of chronic headaches, but not for musculoskeletal pain or osteoarthritis pain. The findings may inform forthcoming guideline updates.
The availability of accredited acupuncturists varies across the UK. Though some are currently funded in NHS clinics, additional NHS funding for providers managing chronic pain conditions may be indicated.