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The best acupuncture evidence shows only trivial effects on pain

PainSci » bibliography » Ernst et al 2011
Tags: treatment, acupuncture, controversy, mind, manual therapy, modalities, debunkery, traditional Chinese medicine, vitalism

One page on PainSci cites Ernst 2011: Does Acupuncture Work for Pain?

PainSci commentary on Ernst 2011: ?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focused on a single scientific paper, and it may provide only just enough context for the summary to make sense. Links to other papers and more general information are provided wherever possible.

A dozen of the best scientific studies of acupuncture treatments for pain were carefully analyzed in this review. The acupuncture treatments were for conditions like osteoarthritis, headache and migraine, low back pain, fibromyalgia, and more. The authors found a statistically significant but “small difference between acupuncture and placebo acupuncture.” They concluded that “the apparent analgesic effect of acupuncture seems to be below a clinically relevant pain improvement.” They also note that “serious adverse effects continue to be reported.”

Pain invited a well-known voice of reason in medicine, Dr. Harriet Hall, to write an editorial about this paper. Dr. Hall’s editorial is an easy-reading summary for both patients and professionals. It is reproduced in full on see Acupuncture Revisited.

~ Paul Ingraham

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.

Acupuncture is commonly used for pain control, but doubts about its effectiveness and safety remain. This review was aimed at critically evaluating systematic reviews of acupuncture as a treatment of pain and at summarizing reports of serious adverse effects published since 2000. Literature searches were carried out in 11 databases without language restrictions. Systematic reviews were considered for the evaluation of effectiveness and case series or case reports for summarizing adverse events. Data were extracted according to predefined criteria. Fifty-seven systematic reviews met the inclusion criteria. Four were of excellent methodological quality. Numerous contradictions and caveats emerged. Unanimously positive conclusions from more than one high-quality systematic review existed only for neck pain. Ninety-five cases of severe adverse effects including 5 fatalities were included. Pneumothorax and infections were the most frequently reported adverse effects. In conclusion, numerous systematic reviews have generated little truly convincing evidence that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain. Serious adverse effects continue to be reported. Numerous reviews have produced little convincing evidence that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain. Serious adverse events, including deaths, continue to be reported.

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