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Meta-Analysis: Acupuncture Reasonable Chronic Pain Option

Last Updated: September 13, 2012.

Acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic pain conditions, including back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache, with pain relief superior to both no-acupuncture controls and sham-acupuncture groups, according to the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis published online Sept. 10 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

THURSDAY, Sept. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic pain conditions, including back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache, with pain relief superior to both no-acupuncture controls and sham-acupuncture groups, according to the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis published online Sept. 10 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Andrew J. Vickers, D.Phil., of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and colleagues conducted a systematic literature review and meta-analysis of individual data from 29 high-quality, randomized controlled trials involving 17,922 patients. The authors sought to determine the efficacy of acupuncture on four chronic pain conditions, including back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain.

The researchers found acupuncture to be statistically significantly superior to both sham and no-acupuncture controls for each pain condition. The size of the effect in each pain condition was about the same. Overall, patients who were treated with acupuncture experienced less pain, with scores that were 0.23, 0.16, and 0.15 standard deviations lower than sham controls for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache, respectively. Compared with no-acupuncture controls, the effect sizes were 0.55, 0.57, and 0.42 standard deviations for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache, respectively.

"Our results from individual patient data meta-analyses of nearly 18,000 randomized patients in high-quality randomized controlled trials provide the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is a reasonable referral option for patients with chronic pain," the authors write.

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