Benefits of Acupuncture
Written by Faith Anderson on September 12, 2012
Acupuncture Treatment vs. Medication
In the new study, which was published September 10 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed 29 studies involving nearly 18,000 adults, and concluded that acupuncture treatment worked better than typical pain treatment and fake acupuncture. The research combined results from studies of patients with common types of chronic pain, including arthritis, headaches, or neck, back and shoulder pain. These studies had randomly assigned participants to acupuncture and either fake acupuncture (using needles in different parts of the body), or standard pain treatments like physical therapy or medication. The researchers used a pain scale of 0 to 100, with the patients’ average baseline pain measuring 60. It dropped to 30 in patients who received acupuncture, 35 in those who got fake acupuncture, and 43 in the standard treatment group.
Acupuncture Benefits Exceed Placebo Effect
Although the pain relief difference between real and fake acupuncture was small, the findings do suggest that acupuncture could have more than just a psychological effect. According to the authors, who include researchers with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and numerous universities in Germany and England, the results of the study “provide the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is a reasonable referral option.” Although the researchers note that their study isn’t necessarily proof that acupuncture may be more beneficial than medications in pain relief treatment, it does add to evidence that acupuncture may benefit patients suffering from a range of conditions.
Acupuncture Becoming More Mainstream
Acupuncture has become more mainstream in recent years, and California even passed legislation that would include acupuncture among a variety of treatments recommended for coverage under provisions of the new health care law. The new law requires insurance plans to cover certain categories of benefits beginning in 2014, and while some private insurers already cover acupuncture, Medicare does not. Scientists are unsure what biological mechanism could explain the ability of acupuncture to relieve pain, but the study authors say their results suggest there is more involved than just a placebo effect. According to Dr. Andrew Avins, physician and researcher with the University of California at San Francisco and Kaiser-Permanente, acupuncture is relatively safe and uncertainty over how it works shouldn’t prevent doctors from offering it as an option for patients suffering from pain. He says, “Perhaps a more productive strategy at this point would be to provide whatever benefits we can for our patients, while we continue to explore more carefully all mechanisms of healing.”