A new study of acupuncture — the most rigorous and detailed analysis of the treatment to date — found that it can ease migraines and arthritis and other forms of chronic pain.
The meta-analysis included studies that compared acupuncture with usual care, like over-the-counter pain relievers and other standard medicines. It also included studies that used sham acupuncture treatments, in which needles were inserted only superficially, for example, or in which patients in control groups were treated with needles that covertly retracted into handles.
Ultimately, Dr. Vickers and his colleagues found that at the end of treatment, about half of the patients treated with true acupuncture reported improvements, compared with about 30 percent of patients who did not undergo it.“There were 30 or 40 people from all over the world involved in this research, and as a whole the sense was that this was a clinically important effect size,” Dr. Vickers said. That is especially the case, he added, given that acupuncture “is relatively noninvasive and relatively safe.”
Dr. Vickers said the results of the study suggest that people undergoing the treatment are getting more than just a psychological boost. “They’re not just getting some placebo effect,” he said. “It’s not some sort of strange healing ritual.”
In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Andrew L. Avins, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente who focuses on musculoskeletal pain and preventive medicine, wrote that the relationship between conventional medical care “and the world of complementary and alternative medicine remains ambiguous.” But at least in the case of acupuncture, he wrote, the new study provides “robust evidence” that it provides “modest benefits over usual care for patients with diverse sources of chronic pain.”