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Chronic Pain, Osteoarthritis & Acupuncture

Osteoarthritis of the knee was one of the conditions included in this large systematic review, along with back pain, neck pain migraine, tension headaches, and shoulder pain. This review received data from a total of 20,827 patients from 39 trials. As far as we are aware, this is the largest high-quality systematic review that evaluates acupuncture for any condition. In addition to size, the review’s strengths are that it included only high-quality clinical trials and had access to the individual patient data. In many systematic reviews the meta-analysis combines the summary data from clinical trials: for example, the mean (average) pain scores. The meta-analysis in this systematic review used the pain scores from each participant, therefore, the analysis has greater statistical ‘precision’. In summary, the Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Update of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis is the most reliable assessment of acupuncture to date.

For the above chronic pain conditions the review found:

  • acupuncture is superior to ‘no acupuncture controls’

  • acupuncture is superior to placebo

  • the clinically relevant effects of acupuncture on chronic pain persist overtime

‘No acupuncture controls’ refers to medication or physiotherapy or exercise and advice. In other words, no acupuncture controls refers to the therapies that many people with chronic pain are currently offered.

Some people worry acupuncture is purely a placebo, and that responding to treatment indicates that the pain was ‘all in their heads’. This systematic review demonstrates the benefits of acupuncture cannot be explained only by placebo effects.

Naturally, many people want to know whether the benefits of acupuncture last over time or does it simply make them feel better for a few days. This review demonstrates clinically relevant benefits last for year.

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