Acupuncture shown to have benefits for treatment of some chronic pain
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.
Acupuncture for analgesia in the emergency department: a multicentre, randomised, equivalence and non-inferiority trial
Objectives: This study aimed to assess analgesia provided by acupuncture, alone or in combination with pharmacotherapy, to patients presenting to emergency departments with acute low back pain, migraine or ankle sprain.
Design: A pragmatic, multicentre, randomised, assessor-blinded, equivalence and non-inferiority trial of analgesia, comparing acupuncture alone, acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy, and pharmacotherapy alone for alleviating pain in the emergency department.
Setting, participants: Patients presenting to emergency departments in one of four tertiary hospitals in Melbourne with acute low back pain, migraine, or ankle sprain, and with a pain score on a 10-point verbal numerical rating scale (VNRS) of at least 4.
Main outcome measures: The primary outcome measure was pain at one hour (T1). Clinically relevant pain relief was defined as achieving a VNRS score below 4, and statistically relevant pain relief as a reduction in VNRS score of greater than 2 units.
Results: 1964 patients were assessed between January 2010 and December 2011; 528 patients with acute low back pain (270 patients), migraine (92) or ankle sprain (166) were randomised to acupuncture alone (177 patients), acupuncture plus pharmacotherapy (178) or pharmacotherapy alone (173). Equivalence and non-inferiority of treatment groups was found overall and for the low back pain and ankle sprain groups in both intention-to-treat and per protocol (PP) analyses, except in the PP equivalence testing of the ankle sprain group. 15.6% of patients had clinically relevant pain relief and 36.9% had statistically relevant pain relief at T1; there were no between-group differences.
Conclusion: The effectiveness of acupuncture in providing acute analgesia for patients with back pain and ankle sprain was comparable with that of pharmacotherapy. Acupuncture is a safe and acceptable form of analgesia, but none of the examined therapies provided optimal acute analgesia. More effective options are needed.
Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, ACTRN12609000989246.
“Quackery. Voodoo. Soft Science. These are just a few of the words I've heard people use to describe acupuncture.
During my training to become a physician, I was taught (maybe brainwashed) that the only real medicine is one that passes the test of double-blind trials and abides by the "standard of care."
But years of working with patients have showed me that these standards can sometimes fail to provide answers for certain ongoing health issues. I've seen acupuncture and other holistic healing modalities provide solutions.
It seems odd that inserting tiny needles into various points in the skin can be healing, but the principles behind acupuncture date back to ancient Chinese medicinal practice. You see, the body consists of 12 different energy channels, and each one has a unique point of increased electrical resistance. Acupuncture needles can help facilitate the movement of this energy.
Practitioners have used it to cure common medical conditions for thousands of years. They've developed acupuncture protocols that have been handed down through generations—slowly tweaked an perfected as they traveled across the globe.
No quackery here—just pure and simple healing.
Certain research has found that acupuncture actually lowers cortisol levels—the stress hormone that's ultimately responsible for the majority of illnesses today—in the body. As cortisol lowers, inflammation slowly reverses, unwinding the damage from a lifestyle of stress, irregular eating and poor sleep.
I recommend acupuncture to patients who are suffering migraines, hormone imbalances, and gastrointestinal issues, amount other painful conditions. I feel comfortable recommending the practice, because I've watched it work miracles in my own life.
Acupuncture, along with dietary changes and supplements, balanced my hormones and brought me to a better place of health. I experienced the tremendous healing powers of acupuncture and am confident in its role in solving the medical conditions of today. I love that acupuncture comes with minimal side effects and doesn't require additional medications.
After taking the time to understand acupuncture's complex history and implement the technique in my own health journey, I've found that the practice bridges the gap that stands between what modern science teaches us as physicians and what patients really experience.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are inherent parts of my medical practice, and I think they should become more ingrained in the medical model moving forward.
No quackery here—just pure and simple healing.”
-Dr. Taz Bhatia, MD, board-certified physician and professor at Emory University
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