Acupuncture Gets Another Nod of Approval

CURE, Winter 2012, Volume 11, Issue 4

More evidence that acupuncture may help pain.

A meta-analysis of nearly 18,000 participants in 29 randomized trials measuring how well acupuncture relieves chronic pain in four specific areas has shown that the age-old therapy is effective for treating chronic pain and is, therefore, a reasonable referral option.

Andrew Vickers, PhD, a research methodologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, says the study analyzed raw patient data, which allowed for more statistically precise results. Each of the patients was taking part in a trial using acupuncture for pain associated with chronic back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, shoulder pain or headache. And, while the studies did not specifically address cancer pain, the results still apply, he says.

“Often, how we treat pain in cancer patients depends on research conducted on patients with chronic pain, not specifically those with cancer pain. Our results can therefore help inform cancer care,” Vickers says.

Some of the trials Vickers and associates used compared the pain relief benefit of acupuncture to standard care (no acupuncture) alone, some to sham (placebo) acupuncture in which the needles are inserted superficially or at non-traditional sites, while others compared all three methods. At the end of treatment, around half of the patients treated with true acupuncture reported improvements, compared with 30 percent of patients who did not use acupuncture, Vickers says.

Vickers recommends that patients seeking an acupuncturist look at the individual’s state accreditation or contact the National Center for Complementary Health, which has information on choosing a good acupuncturist.

The study results, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, have become part of a body of work on acupuncture that has led to controversy concerning its efficacy, which Vickers sees as finally put to rest.

“This has been a controversial subject for a long time,” Vickers told The New York Times. “But when you try to answer the question the right way, as we did, you get very clear answers.”