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August 07, 2019

A common question is, "does acupuncture works?". As an acupuncture practitioner, I have discussions with patients daily on the topic. While some have had a great experience, others complain “it did nothing”. In our field, it’s common to hear that acupuncture commonly works through the placebo effect or something that doesn’t quite have an explanation and achieves outcomes largely due to a patient’s psychological expectations of a particular treatment modality.

Vickers et al. analyzed data from 39 studies and 20, 827 participants adding to their data from a prior meta-analysis done in 2012.   

Some conclusions from their data were: acupuncture has a clinically relevant effect to a “no acupuncture” control group, factors other than specific needle placement contribute to outcomes and effects of acupuncture can persist over at least a 12 month period. 

Limitations within the meta-analysis were consistency in the control groups used in each study along with the type of treatments given in each study.  

One interesting finding is the effect size or magnitude of the intervention seemed to be less in studies where sham (fake) acupuncture needles penetrated the skin. Another interesting finding included higher than average effects of acupuncture when used for shoulder and neck pain. 

In conclusion, the authors summarized that acupuncture has greater effects than those explained by the placebo effect and is a reasonable treatment option for chronic pain. 

While this is a step in the right direction for its uses the mechanisms still remain a mystery. One thing that seems for certain is that acupuncture can provide superior relief for chronic pain when compared to no acupuncture at all. As always acupuncture another tool in the toolbox that should not be used as a sole intervention in the recovery process. 

Have you had it? What were your results?

Source: Vickers et al. (2018) Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. J Pain, 19, 5, 455-474. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2017.11.005

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