Acupuncture combined with standard medical care is more effective than standard medical care alone for treating chronic pain, including back and neck pain, according to a meta-analysis published last year in the journal Programme Grants for Applied Research.
British researchers culled data from 29 randomized studies encompassing 17,922 adults treated for chronic pain. In the original trials, participants who received acupuncture plus standard medical treatment, such as anti-inflammatory drugs and physical therapy, were compared to control groups who either received standard care only, or standard care plus “sham” acupuncture. With sham treatment, the needles either didn’t penetrate the skin or were placed in incorrect locations.
Using a standardized pain scale, the researchers found that the addition of acupuncture, when compared with standard medical care alone, significantly reduced the severity of chronic pain, even when accounting for the placebo effect of the sham procedure. Past studies have associated the benefits of acupuncture with the placebo effect, which has contributed to the uncertainty about acupuncture’s effectiveness.
If it is administered by a licensed acupuncturist who uses sterile needles, there’s little harm in trying acupuncture, provided you already have a diagnosis as to why you’re having pain in the first place. Acupuncture can be helpful for the management of pain in some people, even if the relief may be caused by the placebo effect.