Acupuncture boosts effectiveness of standard medical care for chronic pain, depression



Acupuncture boosts effectiveness of standard medical care for chronic pain, depression


A report published by researchers at the University of York has revealed that acupuncture can boost the effectiveness of standard medical care for chronic pain and depression.

The report showed that acupuncture provides more than a placebo effect. Professor of Acupuncture Research, Hugh MacPherson, worked with a team to bring together the results of 29 clinical trials, all of which focussed on patients treated with acupuncture alongside standard medical care.

In the majority of the trials, chronic pain patients treated with both remedies were tested against patients who only received standard medical care, including anti-inflammatory drugs and physiotherapy. Overall, the trials involved around 18,000 patients diagnosed with chronic pain.

The addition of acupuncture to the treatment plan significantly reduced the number of headaches and migraine attacks, and reduced the severity of neck and lower back pain. Acupuncture was also shown to reduce the pain and disability of osteoarthritis, which led patients to becoming less reliant on anti-inflammatory medication.

The study also showed that acupuncture is cost effective when compared to the metric for cost-effectiveness used by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Professor MacPherson, from the University of York's Department of Health Sciences, said: "There has been an increase in practitioners using acupuncture as an intervention. Approximately four million acupuncture treatments are provided a year in the UK, but the evidence to show how clinically effective this form of treatment is has been limited.

"There has been a question mark for many years over whether policy and decision makers should or should not provide wider access to acupuncture. Our aim was to bring together data from high quality clinical trials and provide a robust evidence base that will help reduce this uncertainty and support commissioners and health professionals in making informed decisions backed up with research."


A new clinical trial for depression was also carried out by the team, where acupuncture or counselling was provided and compared to the effectiveness of medication, such as antidepressants.

The study involved 755 patients with depression, and showed that both acupuncture and counselling significantly reduced the severity of depression, and the benefits were sustained for up to a year after treatment.

Professor MacPherson said: "The front-line treatment for depression in primary care usually involves antidepressants; however, they do not work well for more than half of patients.

"In the largest study of its kind, we have now provided a solid evidence base to show that not only can acupuncture and counselling bring patients out of an episode of depression, but it can keep the condition at bay for up to a year on average."

The benefits of acupuncture are partially associated with placebo effects, which has contributed to the uncertainty around acupuncture's clinical effectiveness. Professor MacPherson states, however, that the new research provides significant evidence that when acupuncture is used to treat chronic pain, the reductions are substantially more than those measured from ‘sham’ acupuncture.

Sham acupuncture is only used in clinical trials for research purposes, and involves inserting needles at the wrong locations, or using fake needles at the correct locations. True acupuncture has significantly more effect in reducing pain, and so this provides evidence that acupuncture is not simply a placebo effect.

Professor MacPherson added: "Our new data provides a significant step forward in treating chronic pain and managing depression, because patients and health professionals can now make decisions on acupuncture with more confidence. Not only is it more cost effective, but it reduces pain levels and improves mood levels, which could reduce over reliance on drugs that can sometimes result in unwanted side effects."


Hugh MacPherson, Andrew Vickers, Martin Bland, David Torgerson, Mark Corbett, Eldon Spackman, Pedro Saramago, Beth Woods, Helen Weatherly, Mark Sculpher, Andrea Manca, Stewart Richmond, Ann Hopton, Janet Eldred, Ian Watt. Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of researchProgramme Grants for Applied Research, 2017; 5 (3): 1 DOI: 10.3310/pgfar05030


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