An excellent review of data from research that involved over 20,827 patients across 39 clinical trials was published in the prestigious medical journal - The Journal of Pain. They focused their review on research involving treatment of non-specific musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, or shoulder pain done between 2008 and 2015, adding to the overall data previously reviewed.
- Acupuncture has a clinically relevant effect on chronic pain that persists over time
- The effect of acupuncture cannot be explained only by placebo effects
- Factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors
- Referral for acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for chronic pain patients
They also summarize their analysis by stating:
"The results confirm and strengthen prior key findings that acupuncture has a clinically relevant effect compared to no acupuncture control. Moreover, we confirmed that, although the effects of acupuncture are not completely explicable in terms of placebo effects, factors other than the specific effects of needling at correct acupuncture point locations are important contributors to acupuncture treatment benefit. Effects of acupuncture appear to persist over at least a 12 month period."
Interestingly, they did not find any difference in data between different styles of acupuncture, e.g. "Traditional" acupuncture or "Western" acupuncture techniques.
They finalize their recommendations for future research by hypothesizing that there are likely identifiable, "subtypes of other chronic pain indications that have differential response to acupuncture," and that it would be prudent to further explore which subtypes of chronic pain respond best to acupuncture.
This is a heavily peer-reviewed journal that is widely read and holds their published studies to a high standard of scientific rigor. Such conclusions from such a journal are very exciting for the continued integration and research into acupuncture and its efficacy. We look forward to continuing to share such research with our clients and colleagues.
Vickers, Andrew J., et al. "Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis." The Journal of Pain (2017). (link to full paper)