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Meta-analysis conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center about acupuncture and chronic pain

Dr. Andrew J. Vickers, at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, conducted a review including trials published after November 2008 and before December 31, 2015.A total of 20,827 patients were included in the total 39 trials. The trials comprised 25 comparisons with 16,041 patients of acupuncture and no acupuncture control, and 26 comparisons with 7,237 patients of acupuncture and sham acupuncture control. Of the trials on musculoskeletal pain, most had an eligibility criterion of a minimum 3 or 6 months pain duration. Amongst those for which individual patient data on chronicity were available, the median duration was 4 years (quartiles: 1.1 years, 10 years).

They found that acupuncture was superior to both sham and no acupuncture control for each pain condition (all p<0.001) with differences between groups close to 0.5 standard deviations (SD) for comparison with no acupuncture control and close to 0.2 SDs in comparison with sham. They also found clear evidence that the effects of acupuncture persist over time with only a small decrease, approximately 15%, in treatment effect at one year.

Therefore, they conclude that acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain, with treatment effects persisting over time. While factors in addition to the specific effects of needling at correct acupuncture point locations are important contributors to the treatment effect, decreases in pain following acupuncture cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects.

This is a very convincing conclusion based on data from a very large population.

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