The authors of this meta-analysis examined 39 trials including 20,827 participants with nonspecific musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headaches, or shoulder pain in an attempt to end the controversy regarding appropriateness of acupuncture for chronic pain.
Despite wide use in clinical practice, acupuncture remains a controversial treatment for chronic pain.
Our objective was to update an individual patient data meta-analysis to determine the effect size of acupuncture for 4 chronic pain conditions.
We searched MEDLINE and the Cochrane Central Registry of Controlled Trials randomized trials published up until December 31, 2015. We included randomized trials of acupuncture needling versus either sham acupuncture or no acupuncture control for nonspecific musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, or shoulder pain.
The main outcome measures were pain and function.
We also found clear evidence that the effects of acupuncture persist over time with only a small decrease, approximately 15%, in treatment effect at 1 year.
We conclude that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain, with treatment effects persisting over time. Although factors in addition to the specific effects of needling at correct acupuncture point locations are important contributors to the treatment effect, decreases in pain after acupuncture cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects.
Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache, and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain.
These findings show that acupuncture has a clinically relevant effect on chronic pain.