Several studies have been conducted to test the efficacy of acupuncture in treating a variety of disorders. Acupuncture can effectively relieve many symptoms with minimal adverse effects.
Shen J, et al. Electroacupunture for control of myeloablative chemotherapy-induced emesis. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2000;284(21):2755-2761.
In this study, 104 breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy were randomly assigned to receive electroacupuncture at antiemetic acupuncture points once daily for 5 days; minimal needling at control points with mock stimulation once daily for 5 days; or antiemetic drugs alone. All the patients received the same chemotherapeutic and antiemetic drugs. At the end of 5 days, patients who received electroacupuncture reported fewer episodes of vomiting compared to those who received minimal needling or antiemetic drugs alone. However, these effects were not observed at a follow-up done from days 6-14. Researchers concluded that electroacupuncture was effective in short-term in controlling emesis associated with chemotherapeutic treatment in breast cancer patients.
Alimi D, et al. Analgesic effect of auricular acupuncture for cancer pain: A randomized, blinded, controlled trial. J Clin Oncol 2003;21(22):4120-4126.
Ninety cancer patients were randomly assigned to receive two courses of true auricular acupuncture; auricular acupuncture at placebo points; or with auricular seeds fixed at placebo points. At a 2-month assessment, patients who received acupuncture reported a 36% decrease in pain from baseline compared to 2% in those who received placebo. Researchers concluded that acupuncture significantly reduced pain in cancer patients, despite being treated with analgesics.
Vickers AJ, et al. Acupuncture for postchemotherapy fatigue: A phase II study. J Clin Oncol 2004;22(9):1731-1735.
This study involved cancer patients who had completed chemotherapy but experienced persistent fatigue. 25 patients received acupuncture twice a week for 4 weeks and 12 patients received acupuncture once a week for 6 weeks. Patients reported an improvement of 31% in fatigue level measured at 2 weeks after the final treatment compared to the baseline. There was no significant difference in weekly and bi-weekly treatments. The result suggests that acupuncture has benefit in treating postchemotherapy fatigue. However, this is only a preliminary study on a small number of patients and was not randomized. Further studies involving large number of patients are warranted.
Vickers AJ, et al. Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomized trial. BMJ 2004;328(7442):744-49.
In this study, 401 patients with chronic headache were randomly assigned to receive up to 12 acupuncture treatments over a period of 3 months or conventional treatment. Patients in the acupuncture group reported fewer headaches, less use of medication, fewer visits to doctors, and improved quality of life compared to those who received conventional care. Researchers concluded that acupuncture offers persistent clinical benefits for patients with chronic headache, particularly migraine.
Xue CCL, et al. Electroacupuncture for tension-type headache on distal acupoints only: A randomized, controlled, crossover trial. Headache 2004:44:333-41.
In this study, 37 patients with tension-type headache were randomly assigned to receive real electroacupuncture or sham electroacupuncture for 4 weeks. Following a washout period of 2 weeks, the order of the treatments was reversed. Patients who initially received real treatment were switched to placebo and those who received placebo were given real acupuncture for 4 more weeks. Patients who received real acupuncture reported significant improvement in frequency of headaches, the duration of headaches, and intensity of pain compared to the placebo treatment. However, the effect was not observed at a 3-month follow-up.
Ng DK, et al. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of acupuncture for the treatment of childhood persistent allergic rhinitis. Pediatrics 2004;114(5):1242-1247.
Seventy-two children in Hong Kong, ages 6-20, with persistent allergic rhinitis were randomly assigned to active and sham acupuncture groups. Patients in the active group received acupuncture at three different acupoints with 1.2 – 2.4 cm needle penetration whereas those in the sham group received acupuncture at the same acupoints but to a depth of only 0.3 cm. The treatment consisted of 2 sessions of acupuncture every week for 8 weeks for both the groups. Following treatment, those in the active group had reduced symptoms of rhinitis and increased in symptom-free days. But there was no difference in use of daily relief medication, serum IgE levels, or nasal eosinophil counts. The effects of acupuncture were also short-term, lasting for 10 weeks. More studies are needed to address the frequency, intensity, and duration of acupuncture treatments and should include children from different cultural backgrounds to rule out any bias.
Broide E, et al. Effectiveness of Acupuncture for treatment of childhood constipation. Dig Dis Sci 2001;46(6):1270-1275.
This study included 17 children, ages 3-13, constipated for at least six months. The treatment consisted of five weekly placebo acupuncture sessions, followed by 10 weekly true acupuncture sessions. The needles were inserted into the stratum corneum and in regions located near true acupuncture points for the placebo treatment. The actual treatment consisted of subdermal insertion of the needles at true acupunture points. The frequency of bowel movements improved after five sessions of true acupuncture. Researchers suggest that acucpuncture may be used as an alternative option to treat chronic constipation in children. However, since the study was designed to administer both the placebo and actual treatments to the same patient, the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating constipation is not clear as it is possible that part of the problem may have resolved during the placebo sessions. Further studies involving more patients and proper controls are warranted.
Berman BM, et al. Effectiveness of Acupuncture as adjunctive therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee. Ann Intern Med 2004;141:901-910.
Five hundred and seventy patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were randomized in this study to receive either 23 true acupuncture sessions for 26 weeks, 6 two-hour educational sessions, or 23 sham acupuncture sessions for 26 weeks. At the end of 26 weeks, researchers found that acupuncture was effective in improving physical function and reducing pain in subjects in the true acupuncture group compared to those in the educational or control groups. Researchers concluded that acupuncture can be used in conjuction with conventional therapy to treat osteoarthritis of the knee.
Hsieh LL, et al. Treatment of low back pain by acupressure and physical therapy: randomized controlled trial. BMJ 2006
In this study, 129 patients with chronic low back pain were administered acupressure or phycial therapy for one month. Pain scores and functional status were measured at baseline and post treatment. There was an 89% reduction in significant disability score in patients who received acupressure compared to those assigned to physical therapy. Researchers also found statistically significant differences in pain visual scale and functional status after treatment and at follow-up six months later. Acupressure appears to be an effective modality in treating patients with low back pain. But the study has a few limitations including the psychological effects arising between patients and therapist; lost to follow-up; and techinique and expertise of the therapist.