Research: Acupuncture Is Both Cost and Medically Effective

Research: Acupuncture Is Both Cost and Medically Effective

Two recent research reports find that acupuncture is an effective treatment for several types of chronic pain and has the added advantage of being less costly than standard medical care.

According to a story in the Sept. 10, 2012 edition of Medscape Medical News, a “meta-analysis” performed by lead author Andrew J. Vickers, DPhil, attending research methodologist, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York found that “found that about 50% of patients who got acupuncture had improvement in pain compared with 30% who didn’t get acupuncture and 42.5% who had sham acupuncture.”

The report, Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis, originally appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The findings contradict a series of controversial reports in the last three years that have contended that “sham acupuncture” is as effective as real acupuncture.

However, the article notes that for other types of interventions for chronic pain “the placebo effect is typically about one third of the effect of the treatment, (but) ‘in acupuncture, it looks like it’s two thirds,’ said Dr. Vickers. ‘That’s quite a large benefit and that’s what the patient will actually experience in real clinical practice,’ where the decision is not whether to have true or sham acupuncture but whether to get a referral for acupuncture or not.”

The study itself was ” a systematic review to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture for chronic pain in which allocation concealment was determined unambiguously to be adequate. Individual patient data meta-analyses were conducted using data from 29 of 31 eligible RCTs, with a total of 17 922 patients analyzed.”

It concluded that “Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option.” It reviewed the effects of acupuncture on four chronic pain conditions: back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain. In his interview Vickers said that acupuncture is also a cost-effective intervention. “Those studies have typically found that the health gain per dollar spent is well under the typical threshold.”

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