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Acupuncture treatment for pain, review

PainSci » bibliography » Madsen et al 2009
updated
Tags: acupuncture, chronic pain, scientific medicine, controversy, mind, debunkery, energy work, pain problems

Four articles on PainSci cite Madsen 2009: 1. The Complete Guide to Trigger Points & Myofascial Pain2. Complete Guide to Low Back Pain3. The Complete Guide to Neck Pain & Cricks4. Does Acupuncture Work for Pain?

PainSci notes on Madsen 2009:

The reviews concludes that “a small analgesic effect of acupuncture was found, which seems to lack clinical relevance and cannot be clearly distinguished from bias. Whether needling at acupuncture points, or at any site, reduces pain independently of the psychological impact of the treatment ritual is unclear.” In the context of treating pain, a “small analgesic effect” is nearly worthless, and it hopelessly damns with faint praise, and that’s assuming it’s even a genuine effect of acupuncture. In fact, it’s vastly more likely to be an effect of being handled and taken care of (“the treatment ritual”).

original abstract Abstracts here may not perfectly match originals, for a variety of technical and practical reasons. Some abstacts are truncated for my purposes here, if they are particularly long-winded and unhelpful. I occasionally add clarifying notes. And I make some minor corrections.

OBJECTIVES: To study the analgesic effect of acupuncture and placebo acupuncture and to explore whether the type of the placebo acupuncture is associated with the estimated effect of acupuncture.

DESIGN: Systematic review and meta-analysis of three armed randomised clinical trials.

DATA SOURCES: Cochrane Library, Medline, Embase, Biological Abstracts, and PsycLIT. Data extraction and analysis Standardised mean differences from each trial were used to estimate the effect of acupuncture and placebo acupuncture. The different types of placebo acupuncture were ranked from 1 to 5 according to assessment of the possibility of a physiological effect, and this ranking was meta-regressed with the effect of acupuncture.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Thirteen trials (3025 patients) involving a variety of pain conditions were eligible. The allocation of patients was adequately concealed in eight trials. The clinicians managing the acupuncture and placebo acupuncture treatments were not blinded in any of the trials. One clearly outlying trial (70 patients) was excluded. A small difference was found between acupuncture and placebo acupuncture: standardised mean difference -0.17 (95% confidence interval -0.26 to -0.08), corresponding to 4 mm (2 mm to 6 mm) on a 100 mm visual analogue scale. No statistically significant heterogeneity was present (P=0.10, I(2)=36%). A moderate difference was found between placebo acupuncture and no acupuncture: standardised mean difference -0.42 (-0.60 to -0.23). However, considerable heterogeneity (P<0.001, I(2)=66%) was also found, as large trials reported both small and large effects of placebo. No association was detected between the type of placebo acupuncture and the effect of acupuncture (P=0.60).

CONCLUSIONS: A small analgesic effect of acupuncture was found, which seems to lack clinical relevance and cannot be clearly distinguished from bias. Whether needling at acupuncture points, or at any site, reduces pain independently of the psychological impact of the treatment ritual is unclear.

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