Acupuncture is a 'good treatment option' for chronic pain, although its effects are similar whether real or sham acupuncture is employed, concludes a major analysis.
US researchers reviewed 29 studies and found evidence strongly supported the use of acupuncture to treat chronic pain.
Their meta-analysis – published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine – only included studies judged as unlikely to be biased and with adequate patient blinding to determine the effect size of acupuncture for four chronic pain conditions such as back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain.
Data from a total of 17,992 patients was analysed and showed 50% of patients had a pain reduction of 50% or more with true acupuncture, 43% with sham acupuncture and 30% with no acupuncture, suggesting most of the response was due to placebo effect.
Sham acupuncture was defined as using acupuncture needles where the needle withdraws into the shaft rather than being inserted into the patient's body.
Acupuncture was found to be of ‘little or modest clinical value' for osteoarthritis and chronic headache, but ‘of significant clinical value' for back and neck pain and for shoulder pain.
Study leader Dr Andrew Vickers, research methodologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York state in the US, said: ‘The overall effect of the package of care received from acupuncturists, including any placebo effects, is large enough for it to be considered a good treatment option.'
Professor Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said: ‘This important analysis confirms impressively and clearly that the effects of acupuncture are mostly due to placebo.'
Archives of Internal Medicine2012, online 10 September