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bibliography * The PainScience Bibliography contains plain language summaries of thousands of scientific papers and others sources, like a specialized blog. This page is about a single scientific paper in the bibliography, Li 2012.

A disturbing and typical example of sloppy modern acupuncture research

Li Y, Zheng H, Witt CM, Roll S, Yu SG, Yan J, Sun GJ, Zhao L, Huang WJ, Chang XR, Zhang HX, Wang DJ, Lan L, Zou R, Liang FR. Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized controlled trial. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2012 Mar;184(4):401–10. PubMed #22231691.
Tags: treatment, headache, acupuncture, scientific medicine, head, head/neck, pain problems, mind, controversy, debunkery, energy work

PainSci summary of Li 2012?This page is one of thousands in the bibliography. It is not a general article: it is focussed 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 at the bottom of the page, as often as possible. ★★☆☆☆?2-star ratings are for studies with flaws, bias, and/or conflict of interest; published in lesser journals. Ratings are a highly subjective opinion, and subject to revision at any time. If you think this paper has been incorrectly rated, please let me know.

This is a disturbing and typical example of sloppy modern acupuncture research, methologically flawed in several ways with clearly negative results, despite the fact that it was clearly built to give acupuncture an unfair advantage, by researchers who wanted to prove that acupuncture works. They concluded that acupuncture has only “a clinically minor effect on migraine,” damning with (very) faint praise, but even that is a biased exaggeration — cherry-picking the best results, and ignoring the more important negative ones. As summarized by Dr. Steven Novella for “Despite all of these shortcomings, all of which would bias the study in the direction of being positive, the study was negative. For the primary outcome measure there was no statistically significant difference between any of the acupuncture groups and the sham acupuncture group.”

~ Paul Ingraham

original abstract

BACKGROUND: Acupuncture is commonly used to treat migraine. We assessed the efficacy of acupuncture at migraine-specific acupuncture points compared with other acupuncture points and sham acupuncture.

METHODS: We performed a multicentre, single-blind randomized controlled trial. In total, 480 patients with migraine were randomly assigned to one of four groups (Shaoyang-specific acupuncture, Shaoyang-nonspecific acupuncture, Yangming-specific acupuncture or sham acupuncture [control]). All groups received 20 treatments, which included electrical stimulation, over a period of four weeks. The primary outcome was the number of days with a migraine experienced during weeks 5-8 after randomization. Our secondary outcomes included the frequency of migraine attack, migraine intensity and migraine-specific quality of life.

RESULTS: Compared with patients in the control group, patients in the acupuncture groups reported fewer days with a migraine during weeks 5-8, however the differences between treatments were not significant (p> 0.05). There was a significant reduction in the number of days with a migraine during weeks 13-16 in all acupuncture groups compared with control (Shaoyang-specific acupuncture v. control: difference -1.06 [95% confidence interval (CI) -1.77 to -0.5], p = 0.003; Shaoyang-nonspecific acupuncture v. control: difference -1.22 [95% CI -1.92 to -0.52], p < 0.001; Yangming-specific acupuncture v. control: difference -0.91 [95% CI -1.61 to -0.21], p = 0.011). We found that there was a significant, but not clinically relevant, benefit for almost all secondary outcomes in the three acupuncture groups compared with the control group. We found no relevant differences between the three acupuncture groups.

INTERPRETATION: Acupuncture tested appeared to have a clinically minor effect on migraine prophylaxis compared with sham acupuncture.

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