All posts by Helen

Stress – Condition Information

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There is a great deal of information about acupuncture for Mental Health on our blog, as well as on our mental health page

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Stress including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.

References:

Helen
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Post Operative Pain – Condition Resources

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

Mechanisms of action:

Acupuncture studies have shown it can: provide pain relief by stimulating nerves in body tissues and leading to endorphin release (natural painkilling substances), as well as downregulating the brain and nervous system’s reaction to stress and pain (Zhao 2008; Zijlstra et al, 2003; Pomeranz, 1987).

Acupuncture has been shown in animal models to promote the release of factors that involved in the reduction of inflammation (vascular and immunomodulatory factors – (Kim et al, 2008; Kavoussi and Ross, 2007 [review article]; Zijlstra et al, 2003), and also to affect levels of serotonin (in an animal model), and other peptides in the brain and nervous system and modulate blood flow in the brain and elsewhere in the body, in humans (Zhong and Li, 2007; Shi et al, 2010).

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Post Operative Pain including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.

References:

Mechanism Of Action in Pain References:

Kavoussi B, Ross BE. The neuroimmune basis of anti-inflammatory acupuncture. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Sep;6(3):251-7.

Kim HW, Uh DK, Yoon SY et al. Low-frequency electroacupuncture suppresses carrageenan-induced paw inflammation in mice via sympathetic post-ganglionic neurons, while high-frequency EA suppression is mediated by the sympathoadrenal medullary axis. Brain Res Bull. 2008 Mar 28;75(5):698-705.

Pomeranz B. Scientific basis of acupuncture. In: Stux G, Pomeranz B, eds. Acupuncture Textbook and Atlas. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; 1987:1-18.

Shi H, Li JH, Ji CF, Shang HY, Qiu EC et al.[Effect of electroacupuncture on cortical spreading depression and plasma CGRP and substance P contents in migraine rats]. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2010 Feb;35(1):17-21.

Zhao ZQ. Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Prog Neurobiol. 2008 Aug;85(4):355-75.

Zhong G.-W. Li W. Effects of acupuncture on 5-hydroxytryptamine1F and inducible nitricoxide synthase gene expression in the brain of migraine rats. Journal of Clinical Rehabilitative Tissue Engineering Research. 2007;11(29)(pp 5761-5764)

Zijlstra FJ, van den Berg-de Lange I, Huygen FJ, Klein J. Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators Inflamm. 2003 Apr;12(2):59-69.

General Chronic Pain References

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), pp.455-474.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

NICE 2021 Chronic pain: Scenario: Management Last revised in April 2021

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Helen
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Neck Pain – Condition Information

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

Neck pain is a common, painful condition, and is in the top three musculoskeletal system complaints reported by patients (BAcC factsheet – see link below).

Chronic Pain in General

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache, and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain”. (Vickers et al, 2018: large chronic pain review of high quality RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis; 39 trials, n=20827; conditions addressed chronic headache, back/neck pain and osteoarthritis)

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic low back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, as well as headaches.

The NHS body in charge of which treatments should be used in particular conditions recommends acupuncture for chronic pain:  The NICE Scenario Management guidelines (2021) for chronic pain state: “consider a course of acupuncture or dry needling, within a traditional Chinese or Western acupuncture system”

Overall, a large systematic review has found acupuncture a cost effective intervention for several painful conditions (Ambrósio et al, 2012).

Neck Pain

Since 1005, over 50 NHS publications have recommended acupuncture for neck pain (many more worldwide; Birch et al 2018).

A randomised trial comparing Alexander technique with acupuncture or usual care alone (MacPherson et al, 2015; n=517) found both acupuncture and Alexander Technique benefitted the participants after a series of sessions, and this benefit ensured at 12 months post treatment, in that their disability level and pain measures were improved.   Essex et al (2017) looked at acupuncture and Alexander technique (ATLAS trial) data, in terms of cost effectiveness, using the NHS standard quality adjusted life years (QALYs) as well as neck pain measures, finding acupuncture to be cost effective as well as effective.  Alexander Technque whilst effect, was not cost effective as it cost more per the amount of gain that could be made.

Van der Velde et al’s (2016) review of whiplash acquired neck pain and disorders, finding acupuncture appeared a cost-effective intervention in these cases.  Seo et al, 2017 in a systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 trials of (electro)acupuncture in chronic neck pain found acupuncture to be effective, and even more so in combination with routine care, their drawings were tentative due to research quality of the trials used.

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on shoulder pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet (links are below).  One such study was Ho et al, (2017), an RCT of abdominal acupuncture in neck pain in Hong Kong (n=154), finding the true acupuncture group experienced symptomatic relief as well as quality of life measurement improvements. 

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic neck pain.

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

Resources:

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has produced an evidence based Neck Pain Factsheet including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture.

References:

General Chronic Pain References:

Ambrósio, E.M.M., Bloor, K. and MacPherson, H., 2012. Costs and consequences of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain: a systematic review of economic evaluations conducted alongside randomised controlled trials. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(5), pp.364-374.

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), pp.455-474.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

NICE 2021 Chronic pain: Scenario: Management Last revised in April 2021

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Neck pain References:

MacPherson, H., Tilbrook, H., Richmond, S., Woodman, J., Ballard, K., Atkin, K., Bland, M., Eldred, J., Essex, H., Hewitt, C. and Hopton, A., 2015. Alexander technique lessons or acupuncture sessions for persons with chronic neck pain: a randomized trial. Annals of internal medicine, 163(9), pp.653-662.

van der Velde, G., Yu, H., Paulden, M., Côté, P., Varatharajan, S., Shearer, H.M., Wong, J.J., Randhawa, K., Southerst, D., Mior, S. and Sutton, D., 2016. Which interventions are cost-effective for the management of whiplash-associated and neck pain-associated disorders? A systematic review of the health economic literature by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration. The Spine Journal, 16(12), pp.1582-1597.

Essex, H., Parrott, S., Atkin, K., Ballard, K., Bland, M., Eldred, J., Hewitt, C., Hopton, A., Keding, A., Lansdown, H. and Richmond, S., 2017. An economic evaluation of Alexander Technique lessons or acupuncture sessions for patients with chronic neck pain: A randomized trial (ATLAS). PloS one, 12(12), p.e0178918.

Seo, S.Y., Lee, K.B., Shin, J.S., Lee, J., Kim, M.R., Ha, I.H., Ko, Y. and Lee, Y.J., 2017. Effectiveness of acupuncture and electroacupuncture for chronic neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 45(08), pp.1573-1595.

Ho, L.F., Lin, Z.X., Leung, A.W.N., Chen, L., Zhang, H., Ng, B.F.L., Ziea, E.T.C. and Guo, Y., 2017. Efficacy of abdominal acupuncture for neck pain: a randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 12(7), p.e0181360.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24(8), pp.752-769.

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Helen
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Temporomandibular Pain – Condition Information

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

Chronic Pain in General

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache, and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain”. (Vickers et al, 2018: large chronic pain review of high quality RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis; 39 trials, n=20827; conditions addressed chronic headache, back/neck pain and osteoarthritis)

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic low back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, as well as headaches.

The NHS body in charge of which treatments should be used in particular conditions recommends acupuncture for chronic pain:  The NICE Scenario Management guidelines (2021) for chronic pain state: “consider a course of acupuncture or dry needling, within a traditional Chinese or Western acupuncture system”

Overall, a large systematic review has found acupuncture a cost effective intervention for several painful conditions (Ambrósio et al, 2012).

TMJ Pain

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on temporomandibular pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet on chronic pain (links are below), finding promising evidence in the field.  Fernandes et al (2017) systematic review looked at 4 trials into TMD of muscular origin, finding acupuncture appears to relieve symptoms in this condition, albeit they noted evidence quality was limited and further research was needed in future in this area.

Justo et al (2017) carried out a systematic review of 4 articles finding that overall, acupuncture was effective in relieving myofascial pain symptoms in patients with temporomandibular dysfunction, albeit that the quality and quantity of the studies meant further research is needed in the area, including for long term outcomes.  This echoes La Touche et al’s earlier (2010) systematic review where they found that the majority of the studies reported that  acupuncture was statistically significant for short term pain relief of myofascial TMD but with the proviso that more studies with larger sample sizes, longer-term follow-up and higher design quality were required in the future to corroborate these trends.

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

Resources:

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has produced an evidence based factsheet about Facial Pain (TMJ) including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has produced an evidence based factsheet about Chronic Pain including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture

Refererences:

General Chronic Pain References:

Ambrósio, E.M.M., Bloor, K. and MacPherson, H., 2012. Costs and consequences of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain: a systematic review of economic evaluations conducted alongside randomised controlled trials. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(5), pp.364-374.

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), pp.455-474.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

NICE 2021 Chronic pain: Scenario: Management Last revised in April 2021

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder References:

Justo, A.C.B.D.C., Moura, D.M.D., Da Silva, L.G.D., De Almeida, E.O. and Barbosa, G.A.S., 2017. Acupuncture in temporomandibular disorder myofascial pain treatment: a systematic review. CEP59056, p.000.

La Touche, R., Angulo-Díaz-Parreño, S., de-la-Hoz, J.L., Fernández-Carnero, J., Ge, H.Y., Linares, M.T., Mesa, J. and Sánchez-Gutiérrez, J., 2010. Effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of temporomandibular disorders of muscular origin: a systematic review of the last decade. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine16(1), pp.107-112.

Fernandes AC, Duarte Moura DM, Da Silva LGD, De Almeida EO, Barbosa GAS. Acupuncture in Temporomandibular Disorder Myofascial Pain Treatment: A Systematic Review. J Oral Facial Pain Headache. 2017 Summer;31(3):225-232. doi: 10.11607/ofph.1719. PMID: 28738107.

Helen
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Plantar Fasciitis – Condition Information

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

Chronic Pain in General

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache, and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain”. (Vickers et al, 2018: large chronic pain review of high quality RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis; 39 trials, n=20827; conditions addressed chronic headache, back/neck pain and osteoarthritis)

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic low back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, as well as headaches.

The NHS body in charge of which treatments should be used in particular conditions recommends acupuncture for chronic pain:  The NICE Scenario Management guidelines (2021) for chronic pain state: “consider a course of acupuncture or dry needling, within a traditional Chinese or Western acupuncture system”

Overall, a large systematic review has found acupuncture a cost effective intervention for several painful conditions (Ambrósio et al, 2012).

Plantar Fasciitis

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on plantar heel pain (plantar fasciitis – link below).  Systematic reviews by Thiagarajah (2017) found promising evidence for short term pain relief in the condition, but looked to future long-term studies to improve the evidence base, and Salvioli et al’s (2017) systematic review of the same looked at 20 studies entailing 9 different types of intervention found improvement over placebo, but looked toward future studies to corroborate this.

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

References:

Chronic Pain References:

Ambrósio, E.M.M., Bloor, K. and MacPherson, H., 2012. Costs and consequences of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain: a systematic review of economic evaluations conducted alongside randomised controlled trials. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(5), pp.364-374.

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), pp.455-474.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

NICE 2021 Chronic pain: Scenario: Management Last revised in April 2021

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Plantar Fasciitis Refrences:

Salvioli, S., Guidi, M. and Marcotulli, G., 2017. The effectiveness of conservative, non-pharmacological treatment, of plantar heel pain: a systematic review with meta-analysis. The Foot33, pp.57-67.

Thiagarajah, A.G., 2017. How effective is acupuncture for reducing pain due to plantar fasciitis?. Singapore medical journal58(2), p.92.

Helen
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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Condition information

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has a research digest of recent articles, with a small section on recent studies in this area (toward the base of the document – see Resources below).

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

In the UK, a trial was done by the British Acupuncture Council with HealthWatch Norfolk (2018) to evaluate the usefulness and acceptability of acupuncture for PTSD in veterans in Norfolk, UK. This small trial gave very encouraging results for the veterans who took part in it (link below) and further larger trials involving a greater number of patients and practitioners would be useful to corroborate this.

There have been a number of research trials in the United States of America in particular working with veterans groups, where acupuncture and a particular protocol of ear acupuncture are often used in this area.

Elsewhere, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 7 trials was not able to draw strong conclusions (Grant et al, 2018 n=709 overall), of note many trials had a lower quality of evidence, meaning further high quality RCT trials and large reviews are warranted in this growing area.

References:

BAcC and Healthwatch Norfolk (2018) Stand Easy: An Evaluation of the effectiveness and acceptability of acupuncture as a treatment for PTSD for veterans in Norfolk

Grant, S., Colaiaco, B., Motala, A., Shanman, R., Sorbero, M. and Hempel, S., 2018. Acupuncture for the treatment of adults with posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation19(1), pp.39-58.

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council PTSD factsheet including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition,

British Acupuncture Council Research Digest

Helen
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Pain & Painful disorders – Condition Resources

See our in-depth blog about the NICE guidelines regarding recommendation of acupuncture for Chronic Pain, which is an evidence base piece informing NHS practise.

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

Chronic Pain in General

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache, and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain”. (Vickers et al, 2018: large chronic pain review of high quality RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis; 39 trials, n=20827; conditions addressed chronic headache, back/neck pain and osteoarthritis)

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic low back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, as well as headaches.

The NHS body in charge of which treatments should be used in particular conditions recommends acupuncture for chronic pain:  The NICE Scenario Management guidelines (2021) for chronic pain state: “consider a course of acupuncture or dry needling, within a traditional Chinese or Western acupuncture system”

Overall, a large systematic review has found acupuncture a cost effective intervention for several painful conditions (Ambrósio et al, 2012).

There are many painful conditions for which patients seek acupuncture to address their symptoms. We have dedicated pages for arthritis, back pain, carpal tunnel, facial (TMJ) pain, shoulder and frozen shoulder, headache, migraine, kidney stones, plantar fasciitis, knee pain, sciatica, neuropathic (nerve) pain, rheumatoid arthritis, tennis and golfer’s elbow, neck pain, and pelvic pain each of which give references and further resources to evidence based factsheets and may be of use.

Mechanisms of action on pain:

Acupuncture studies have shown it can: provide pain relief by stimulating nerves in body tissues and leading to endorphin release (natural painkilling substances), as well as downregulating the brain and nervous system’s reaction to stress and pain (Zhao 2008; Zijlstra et al, 2003; Pomeranz, 1987).

Acupuncture has been shown in animal models to promote the release of factors that involved in the reduction of inflammation (vascular and immunomodulatory factors – (Kim et al, 2008; Kavoussi and Ross, 2007 [review article]; Zijlstra et al, 2003), and also to affect levels of serotonin (in an animal model), and other peptides in the brain and nervous system and modulate blood flow in the brain and elsewhere in the body, in humans (Zhong and Li, 2007; Shi et al, 2010).

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Chronic Pain including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.

References:

Chronic Pain in General References:

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), pp.455-474.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

NICE 2021 Chronic pain: Scenario: Management Last revised in April 2021

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Mechanism of Action References:

Kavoussi B, Ross BE. The neuroimmune basis of anti-inflammatory acupuncture. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Sep;6(3):251-7.

Kim HW, Uh DK, Yoon SY et al. Low-frequency electroacupuncture suppresses carrageenan-induced paw inflammation in mice via sympathetic post-ganglionic neurons, while high-frequency EA suppression is mediated by the sympathoadrenal medullary axis. Brain Res Bull. 2008 Mar 28;75(5):698-705.

Pomeranz B. Scientific basis of acupuncture. In: Stux G, Pomeranz B, eds. Acupuncture Textbook and Atlas. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; 1987:1-18.

Shi H, Li JH, Ji CF, Shang HY, Qiu EC et al.[Effect of electroacupuncture on cortical spreading depression and plasma CGRP and substance P contents in migraine rats]. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2010 Feb;35(1):17-21.

Zhao ZQ. Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Prog Neurobiol. 2008 Aug;85(4):355-75.

Zhong G.-W. Li W. Effects of acupuncture on 5-hydroxytryptamine1F and inducible nitricoxide synthase gene expression in the brain of migraine rats. Journal of Clinical Rehabilitative Tissue Engineering Research. 2007;11(29)(pp 5761-5764)

Zijlstra FJ, van den Berg-de Lange I, Huygen FJ, Klein J. Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators Inflamm. 2003 Apr;12(2):59-69.

Helen
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Musculoskeletal System – Resources

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

The MusculoSkeletal (MSK) system concerns the joints, bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles of the body and is often a cause for patients to present to acupuncture as symptoms in this system can be of pain, stiffness, affects on flexibility and mobility in joints and muscles.

Chronic Pain in General

“Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic musculoskeletal, headache, and osteoarthritis pain. Treatment effects of acupuncture persist over time and cannot be explained solely in terms of placebo effects. Referral for a course of acupuncture treatment is a reasonable option for a patient with chronic pain”. (Vickers et al, 2018: large chronic pain review of high quality RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis; 39 trials, n=20827; conditions addressed chronic headache, back/neck pain and osteoarthritis)

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic low back, neck, shoulder, and knee pain, as well as headaches.

The NHS body in charge of which treatments should be used in particular conditions recommends acupuncture for chronic pain:  The NICE Scenario Management guidelines (2021) for chronic pain state: “consider a course of acupuncture or dry needling, within a traditional Chinese or Western acupuncture system”

Overall, a large systematic review has found acupuncture a cost effective intervention for several painful conditions (Ambrósio et al, 2012).

Plantar Fasciitis

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on plantar heel pain (plantar fasciitis – link below).  Systematic reviews by Thiagarajah (2017) found promising evidence for short term pain relief in the condition, but looked to future long-term studies to improve the evidence base, and Salvioli et al’s (2017) systematic review of the same looked at 20 studies entailing 9 different types of intervention found improvement over placebo, but looked toward future studies to corroborate this.

Tennis Elbow

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on lateral elbow pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet (tennis elbow – links are below), finding promising evidence in the field.   

Gadau et al, (2014) conducted a systematic review of 19 RCTs of varying quality were examined, and overall the evidence suggested acupuncture was more effective than sham control.  Tang et al (2015) looed at a smaller number of RCT and were more tentative about the outcomes due to concern over trial designs and highlighted a need for further research.

Recent small trials include one comparing acupuncture and manipulation (n=35; Hsu et al, 2016) in which both groups experienced improvement in pain and function.  Another looked at ultrasound imaging of the affected tendon to evaluate acupuncture’s effect, finding reduction of tendon thickness after 10 sessions as well as improvement in pain scores (Ural et al 2017; n-41).  A further trial (Wong  et al, 2017; n=34) compared acupuncture and extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), finding a trend of improvement in pain scores in both groups.

Temporomandibular Pain (TM / TMJ)

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on temporomandibular pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet (links are below), finding promising evidence in the field.   Fernandes et al (2017) systematic review looked at 4 trials into TMD of muscular origin, finding acupuncture appears to relieve symptoms in this condition, albeit they noted evidence quality was limited and further research was needed in future in this area.

Justo et al (2017) carried out a systematic review of 4 articles finding that overall, acupuncture was effective in relieving myofascial pain symptoms in patients with temporomandibular dysfunction, albeit that the quality and quantity of the studies meant further research is needed in the area, including for long term outcomes.  This echoes La Touche et al’s earlier (2010) systematic review where they found that the majority of the studies reported that  acupuncture was statistically significant for short term pain relief of myofascial TMD but with the proviso that more studies with larger sample sizes, longer-term follow-up and higher design quality were required in the future to corroborate these trends.

Shoulder Pain

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on shoulder pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet (links are below)

Shoulder pain was included in large chronic pain review of RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis (Vickers et al, 2018; 39 trials, n=20827), acupuncture showed a significant clinical superiority over usual care and a smaller advantage over sham.

Another systematic review and meta analysis of acupuncture in shoulder pain post stroke (Lee & Lim, 2016), saw that over 12 RCTs  found it more effective that rehabilitation alone  finding it a useful for this, with the authors calling for  further trials of high quality to corroborate this.

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic shoulder pain.

Neck Pain

Since 1005, over 50 NHS publications have recommended acupuncture for neck pain (many more worldwide; Birch et al 2018).

A randomised trial comparing Alexander technique with acupuncture or usual care alone (MacPherson et al, 2015; n=517) found both acupuncture and Alexander Technique benefitted the participants after a series of sessions, and this benefit ensured at 12 months post treatment, in that their disability level and pain measures were improved.   Essex et al (2017) looked at acupuncture and Alexander technique (ATLAS trial) data, in terms of cost effectiveness, using the NHS standard quality adjusted life years (QALYs) as well as neck pain measures, finding acupuncture to be cost effective as well as effective.  Alexander Technque whilst effect, was not cost effective as it cost more per the amount of gain that could be made.

Van der Velde et al’s (2016) review of whiplash acquired neck pain and disorders, finding acupuncture appeared a cost-effective intervention in these cases.  Seo et al, 2017 in a systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 trials of (electro)acupuncture in chronic neck pain found acupuncture to be effective, and even more so in combination with routine care, their drawings were tentative due to research quality of the trials used.

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on shoulder pain, as well as an evidence based factsheet (links are below).  One such study was Ho et al, (2017), an RCT of abdominal acupuncture in neck pain in Hong Kong (n=154), finding the true acupuncture group experienced symptomatic relief as well as quality of life measurement improvements. 

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic neck pain.

Back pain

Back pain is the single most common condition for which patients seek acupuncture, and many parts of the NHS either offer or recommend acupuncture for back pain, with over 100 clinical practice guidelines worldwide giving positive recommendations for acupuncture for back pain (Birch et al, 2018).  The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network recommends acupuncture for back pain.

Back pain was included in large chronic pain review of RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis (Vickers et al, 2018; 39 trials, n=20827) acupuncture showed a significant clinical superiority over usual care and a smaller advantage over sham.  The researchers found that treatment effects persisted over time and couldn’t be explained solely in terms of placebo effects, meaning that acupuncture treatment was a reasonable option for some types of chronic pain, including back pain.

The American College of Physicians’ clinical practise guidelines nonpharmacologic treatment options for low back pain reviewed new evidence and found acupuncture useful for pain relief and to some extent function, although they had reservations about the strength of the evidence, meaning long term studies are needed (Chou et al, 2016, 2017).

The Clinical Practise Guidelines for managing low back pain, a systematic review on 13 sets of guidelines by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration looked at non-invasive techniques including acupuncture – acupuncture was one of the top recommended (non-invasive) interventions in the guidelines, where 10 sessions over 12 weeks was the recommended intervention for low back pain, and commented that high-quality guidelines support this whilst underlining that different techniques have different levels of effectiveness (Wong et al, 2017).

Another recent overview (Yin et al, 2017) confirms that there is increasing evidence for acupuncture  as an effective, safe, and cost-effective intervention in chronic low back pain.

Sciatica

Sciatica is also known by its medical name lumbar radiculopathy, and is where nerves become impinged in the lower back, causing referred pain and neurological (nerve-related) symptoms into the areas that nerve supplies, usually buttock and lower limb.

Evidence suggests acupuncture may provide pain relief in sciatica; RCTs such as Wang (2009; n=139) comparing acupuncture and TENS and finding in favour of acupuncture; another finding for acupuncture’s effectiveness along with an increase in pain threshold in the true acupuncture group (Chen et al, 2009; n=90).

Other studies have looked at how the above may come about, for example Inoue et al (2008), in a clinical trial where patients had improvement in pain and nerve symptoms from lower back impingement, and put forward the theory that as seen in animal studies the blood flow in the region of the sciatic nerve was modulated by acupuncture, as well as the well known mechanisms of action of acupuncture in pain relief and inflammation reduction.

A network meta-analysis comparing 21 different therapies for sciatica (Lewis et al, 2015), finding acupuncture the second-best therapy in terms of addressing pain intensity and in terms of overall effect and having a statistically significant effect, leading them to suggest it should be considered as a treatment option.

Knee pain

Knee pain was included in large chronic pain review of RCTs updating a previous meta-analysis (Vickers et al, 2018; 39 trials, n=20827) acupuncture showed a significant clinical superiority over usual care.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 17 trials, showed significant benefits whereby in patients in study groups having received acupuncture, this was associated with significantly reduced chronic knee pain 12 weeks (Zhang et al, 2017).  Specifically comparing treatments including acupuncture in osteoarthritic knee pain, Corbett et al’s (2013, n=9709) systematic review and network meta-analysis found that acupuncture could be considered as one of the more effective physical treatments for alleviating osteoarthritis knee pain in the short-term: Acupuncture was ranked second out of 21 physical treatments in this study.  The team also clarified that further research is also warranted in this area, due to the quality of the research available in some treatment areas across the studies.

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

Mechanisms of action:

Acupuncture studies have shown it can: provide pain relief by stimulating nerves in body tissues and leading to endorphin release (natural painkilling substances), as well as downregulating the brain and nervous system’s reaction to stress and pain (Zhao 2008; Zijlstra et al, 2003; Pomeranz, 1987).

Acupuncture has been shown in animal models to promote the release of factors that involved in the reduction of inflammation (vascular and immunomodulatory factors – (Kim et al, 2008; Kavoussi and Ross, 2007 [review article]; Zijlstra et al, 2003), and also to affect levels of serotonin (in an animal model), and other peptides in the brain and nervous system and modulate blood flow in the brain and elsewhere in the body, in humans (Zhong and Li, 2007; Shi et al, 2010).

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Chronic Pain including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.

British Acupuncture Council Research Digest – Musculoskeletal chronic pain conditions (plantar fasciitis; tennis elbow; temporomandibular pain, shoulder pain, sciatica, back pain) (approx halfway down the document)

References General:

Ambrósio, E.M.M., Bloor, K. and MacPherson, H., 2012. Costs and consequences of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain: a systematic review of economic evaluations conducted alongside randomised controlled trials. Complementary therapies in medicine, 20(5), pp.364-374.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

Kavoussi B, Ross BE. The neuroimmune basis of anti-inflammatory acupuncture. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Sep;6(3):251-7.

Kim HW, Uh DK, Yoon SY et al. Low-frequency electroacupuncture suppresses carrageenan-induced paw inflammation in mice via sympathetic post-ganglionic neurons, while high-frequency EA suppression is mediated by the sympathoadrenal medullary axis. Brain Res Bull. 2008 Mar 28;75(5):698-705.

NICE 2021 Chronic pain: Scenario: Management Last revised in April 2021

Pomeranz B. Scientific basis of acupuncture. In: Stux G, Pomeranz B, eds. Acupuncture Textbook and Atlas. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; 1987:1-18.

Shi H, Li JH, Ji CF, Shang HY, Qiu EC et al.[Effect of electroacupuncture on cortical spreading depression and plasma CGRP and substance P contents in migraine rats]. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2010 Feb;35(1):17-21.

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Zhao ZQ. Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Prog Neurobiol. 2008 Aug;85(4):355-75.

Zhong G.-W. Li W. Effects of acupuncture on 5-hydroxytryptamine1F and inducible nitricoxide synthase gene expression in the brain of migraine rats. Journal of Clinical Rehabilitative Tissue Engineering Research. 2007;11(29)(pp 5761-5764)

Zijlstra FJ, van den Berg-de Lange I, Huygen FJ, Klein J. Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators Inflamm. 2003 Apr;12(2):59-69.

Plantar Fasciitis References

Salvioli, S., Guidi, M. and Marcotulli, G., 2017. The effectiveness of conservative, non-pharmacological treatment, of plantar heel pain: a systematic review with meta-analysis. The Foot33, pp.57-67.

Thiagarajah, A.G., 2017. How effective is acupuncture for reducing pain due to plantar fasciitis?. Singapore medical journal58(2), p.92.

Tennis Elbow References

Gadau, M., Yeung, W.F., Liu, H., Zaslawski, C., Tan, Y.S., Wang, F.C., Bangrazi, S., Chung, K.F., Bian, Z.X. and Zhang, S.P., 2014. Acupuncture and moxibustion for lateral elbow pain: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine14(1), pp.1-19.

Tang, H., Fan, H., Chen, J., Yang, M., Yi, X., Dai, G., Chen, J., Tang, L., Rong, H., Wu, J. and Liang, F., 2015. Acupuncture for lateral epicondylitis: a systematic review. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine2015.

Hsu, C.Y., Lee, K.H., Huang, H.C., Chang, Z.Y., Chen, H.Y. and Yang, T.H., 2016. Manipulation therapy relieved pain more rapidly than acupuncture among lateral epicondylalgia (tennis elbow) patients: a randomized controlled trial with 8-week follow-up. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2016.

Ural, F.G., Öztürk, G.T., Bölük, H. and Akkuş, S., 2017. Ultrasonographic evaluation of acupuncture effect on common extensor tendon thickness in patients with lateral epicondylitis: a randomized controlled study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine23(10), pp.819-822.

Wong, C.W.Y., Ng, E.Y.L., Fung, P.W., Mok, K.M., Yung, P.S.H. and Chan, K.M., 2017. Comparison of treatment effects on lateral epicondylitis between acupuncture and extracorporeal shockwave therapy. Asia-Pacific journal of sports medicine, arthroscopy, rehabilitation and technology7, pp.21-26.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder References

Justo, A.C.B.D.C., Moura, D.M.D., Da Silva, L.G.D., De Almeida, E.O. and Barbosa, G.A.S., 2017. Acupuncture in temporomandibular disorder myofascial pain treatment: a systematic review. CEP59056, p.000.

La Touche, R., Angulo-Díaz-Parreño, S., de-la-Hoz, J.L., Fernández-Carnero, J., Ge, H.Y., Linares, M.T., Mesa, J. and Sánchez-Gutiérrez, J., 2010. Effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of temporomandibular disorders of muscular origin: a systematic review of the last decade. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine16(1), pp.107-112.

Fernandes AC, Duarte Moura DM, Da Silva LGD, De Almeida EO, Barbosa GAS. Acupuncture in Temporomandibular Disorder Myofascial Pain Treatment: A Systematic Review. J Oral Facial Pain Headache. 2017 Summer;31(3):225-232. doi: 10.11607/ofph.1719. PMID: 28738107.

Shoulder References

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain19(5), pp.455-474.

Lee, S.H. and Lim, S.M., 2016. Acupuncture for poststroke shoulder pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2016.

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Neck Pain References

MacPherson, H., Tilbrook, H., Richmond, S., Woodman, J., Ballard, K., Atkin, K., Bland, M., Eldred, J., Essex, H., Hewitt, C. and Hopton, A., 2015. Alexander technique lessons or acupuncture sessions for persons with chronic neck pain: a randomized trial. Annals of internal medicine, 163(9), pp.653-662.

van der Velde, G., Yu, H., Paulden, M., Côté, P., Varatharajan, S., Shearer, H.M., Wong, J.J., Randhawa, K., Southerst, D., Mior, S. and Sutton, D., 2016. Which interventions are cost-effective for the management of whiplash-associated and neck pain-associated disorders? A systematic review of the health economic literature by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration. The Spine Journal, 16(12), pp.1582-1597.

Essex, H., Parrott, S., Atkin, K., Ballard, K., Bland, M., Eldred, J., Hewitt, C., Hopton, A., Keding, A., Lansdown, H. and Richmond, S., 2017. An economic evaluation of Alexander Technique lessons or acupuncture sessions for patients with chronic neck pain: A randomized trial (ATLAS). PloS one, 12(12), p.e0178918.

Seo, S.Y., Lee, K.B., Shin, J.S., Lee, J., Kim, M.R., Ha, I.H., Ko, Y. and Lee, Y.J., 2017. Effectiveness of acupuncture and electroacupuncture for chronic neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 45(08), pp.1573-1595.

Ho, L.F., Lin, Z.X., Leung, A.W.N., Chen, L., Zhang, H., Ng, B.F.L., Ziea, E.T.C. and Guo, Y., 2017. Efficacy of abdominal acupuncture for neck pain: a randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 12(7), p.e0181360.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24(8), pp.752-769.

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.

Back Pain References

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain, 19(5), pp.455-474.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24(8), pp.752-769.

Chou, R., Deyo, R., Friedly, J., Skelly, A., Hashimoto, R., Weimer, M., Fu, R., Dana, T., Kraegel, P., Griffin, J. and Grusing, S., 2017. Nonpharmacologic therapies for low back pain: a systematic review for an American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Annals of internal medicine, 166(7), pp.493-505.

Chou, R., Deyo, R., Friedly, J., Skelly, A., Hashimoto, R., Weimer, M., Fu, R., Dana, T., Kraegel, P., Griffin, J. and Grusing, S., 2016. Noninvasive treatments for low back pain.

Wong, J.J., Côté, P., Sutton, D.A., Randhawa, K., Yu, H., Varatharajan, S., Goldgrub, R., Nordin, M., Gross, D.P., Shearer, H.M. and Carroll, L.J., 2017. Clinical practice guidelines for the noninvasive management of low back pain: A systematic review by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration. European journal of pain21(2), pp.201-216.

Lewis, R.A., Williams, N.H., Sutton, A.J., Burton, K., Din, N.U., Matar, H.E., Hendry, M., Phillips, C.J., Nafees, S., Fitzsimmons, D. and Rickard, I., 2015. Comparative clinical effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: systematic review and network meta-analyses. The Spine Journal15(6),

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592.pp.1461-1477.

Sciatica References

Chen, M.R., Ping, W., Cheng, G., Xiang, G.U.O., Wei, G.W. and Cheng, X.H., 2009. The warming acupuncture for treatment of sciatica in 30 cases. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 29(1), pp.50-53.

Inoue, M., Kitakoji, H., Yano, T., Ishizaki, N., Itoi, M. and Katsumi, Y., 2008. Acupuncture treatment for low back pain and lower limb symptoms—the relation between acupuncture or electroacupuncture stimulation and sciatic nerve blood flow. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 5(2), pp.133-143.

Lewis, R.A., Williams, N.H., Sutton, A.J., Burton, K., Din, N.U., Matar, H.E., Hendry, M., Phillips, C.J., Nafees, S., Fitzsimmons, D. and Rickard, I., 2015. Comparative clinical effectiveness of management strategies for sciatica: systematic review and network meta-analyses. The Spine Journal, 15(6), pp.1461-1477.

Wang ZX. [Clinical observation on electroacupuncture at acupoints for treatment of senile radical sciatica]. Zhongguo Zhenjiu 2009; 29(2): 126-8.

Knee References

Corbett, M.S., Rice, S.J.C., Madurasinghe, V., Slack, R., Fayter, D.A., Harden, M., Sutton, A.J., Macpherson, H. and Woolacott, N.F., 2013. Acupuncture and other physical treatments for the relief of pain due to osteoarthritis of the knee: network meta-analysis. Osteoarthritis and cartilage, 21(9), pp.1290-1298.

Vickers, A.J., Vertosick, E.A., Lewith, G., MacPherson, H., Foster, N.E., Sherman, K.J., Irnich, D., Witt, C.M., Linde, K. and Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, 2018. Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis. The Journal of Pain19(5), pp.455-474.

Yin, C., Buchheit, T.E. and Park, J.J., 2017. Acupuncture for chronic pain: an update and critical overview. Current opinion in anaesthesiology30(5), pp.583-592. Zhang, Q., Yue, J., Golianu, B., Sun, Z. and Lu, Y., 2017. Updated systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture for chronic knee pain. Acupuncture in Medicine, 35(6), pp.392-403

Helen
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Migraine – Condition Resources

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

Over 80 NHS publications since 2005 have recommended acupuncture both for tension headaches and migraine (and many more worldwide (Birch et al, 2018)

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) reviewed the evidence for acupuncture in migraine and tension headaches, where a large number of trials have been carried out, considerably more effective than placebo (Tavola et al, 1992.) The BAcC concluded there was some evidence that acupuncture has a significant therapeutic effect on symptoms such as pain and frequency in migraine attacks. It was also noted in a crossover research trial that in addition to demonstrating a significant effect in reduction of frequency of attacks and their duration, that acupuncture has a very low side effect profile (Hesse et al, 1994; Loh et al, 1984).

The British Acupuncture Council has a Research digest where they examined some recent studies on headache and migraine, as well as an evidence based factsheet (links are below).

Acupuncture has had a good profile for both migraine and tension headaches since the Cochrane review of 2009, which was updated in 2016 (Linde et al), including 22 trials (n=4985), finding evidence to suggest that adding acupuncture to symptomatic treatment of attacks reduces the frequency of headaches.  The researchers expressed the need for further long term trials in this area.

The current NICE headache guidelines (2012; 1.3.9) state the following: “Prophylactic treatment: Consider a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture over 5 to 8 weeks for the prophylactic treatment of chronic tension‑type headache.”

A systematic review on migraine without aura (Xu et al, 2018) examined 14 RCTs (n=1155), drawing the conclusion that acupuncture is safe, more beneficial that sham control in addressing symptoms, although they were reserved in the strength of this finding by the quality of some of the evidence available, meaning further studies were warranted.

Ambrosie et el, (2012) looked at cost effectiveness of acupuncture use in this field, using the NHS measure of cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY) gain from treatment usage, finding  acupuncture to be cost effective by this measure.

Mechanisms of action:

Acupuncture studies have shown it can: provide pain relief by stimulating nerves in body tissues and leading to endorphin release (natural painkilling substances), as well as downregulating the brain and nervous system’s reaction to stress and pain (Zhao 2008; Zijlstra et al, 2003; Pomeranz, 1987).

Acupuncture has been shown in animal models to promote the release of factors that involved in the reduction of inflammation (vascular and immunomodulatory factors – (Kim et al, 2008; Kavoussi and Ross, 2007 [review article]; Zijlstra et al, 2003), and also to affect levels of serotonin (in an animal model), and other peptides in the brain and nervous system and modulate blood flow in the brain and elsewhere in the body, in humans (Zhong and Li, 2007; Shi et al, 2010; Park, 2009).

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Migraine including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Headaches including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.

British Acupuncture Council Research Digest – Headache and Migraine (approx halfway down the document)

British Acupuncture Council Review Paper Migraine and Acupuncture: The evidence for effectiveness

References:

Ambrósio, E.M.M., Bloor, K. and MacPherson, H., 2012. Costs and consequences of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain: a systematic review of economic evaluations conducted alongside randomised controlled trials. Complementary therapies in medicine20(5), pp.364-374.

Birch, S., Lee, M.S., Alraek, T. and Kim, T.H., 2018. Overview of treatment guidelines and clinical practical guidelines that recommend the use of acupuncture: a bibliometric analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine24(8), pp.752-769.

Hesse J, Movelvang B, Simonsen H. (1994) Acupuncture versus metroplol in migraine prohylaxis: a randomised trial of trigger point activation. J Intern Med 235: 451-6

Kavoussi B, Ross BE. The neuroimmune basis of anti-inflammatory acupuncture. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Sep;6(3):251-7.

Kim HW, Uh DK, Yoon SY et al. Low-frequency electroacupuncture suppresses carrageenan-induced paw inflammation in mice via sympathetic post-ganglionic neurons, while high-frequency EA suppression is mediated by the sympathoadrenal medullary axis. Brain Res Bull. 2008 Mar 28;75(5):698-705.

Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Vertosick, E.A., Vickers, A. and White, A.R., 2016. Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (6).

Loh L, Nathan PW, Schott GD, Zilkha KJ. (1984) Acupuncture versus medical treatment for migraine and muscle tension headaches. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 47: 333-7

National Institute for Clinical Excellence (2021) Headaches in over 12s: diagnosis and management Clinical guideline [CG150]Published: 19 September 2012 Last updated: 12 May 2021

Pomeranz B. Scientific basis of acupuncture. In: Stux G, Pomeranz B, eds. Acupuncture Textbook and Atlas. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; 1987:1-18.

Shi H, Li JH, Ji CF, Shang HY, Qiu EC et al.[Effect of electroacupuncture on cortical spreading depression and plasma CGRP and substance P contents in migraine rats]. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2010 Feb;35(1):17-21.

Tavola T, Gala C, Conte G, Inverizzi G. (1992) Traditional Chinese acupuncture in tension- type headache: a controlled study. Pain 48: 325-9

Xu, J., Zhang, F.Q., Pei, J. and Ji, J., 2018. Acupuncture for migraine without aura: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of integrative medicine16(5), pp.312-321.

Zhao ZQ.  Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Prog Neurobiol. 2008 Aug;85(4):355-75.

Zhong G.-W. Li W. Effects of acupuncture on 5-hydroxytryptamine1F and inducible nitricoxide synthase gene expression in the brain of migraine rats.  Journal of Clinical Rehabilitative Tissue Engineering Research. 2007;11(29)(pp 5761-5764)

Zijlstra FJ, van den Berg-de Lange I, Huygen FJ, Klein J. Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators Inflamm. 2003 Apr;12(2):59-69.

Helen
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Mental Health – Condition Resources

Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.

About the research: It is worth noting that in research, randomised controlled studies (RCT) are the most reliable in terms of quality of evidence, with a systematic review or meta analysis of numerous studies being the best way of seeing the overall picture of the state of the evidence. Below we have a selection of the available research, which does include some larger RCTs, and reviews of the literature alongside smaller studies. The n= figure tells you how many people were participants in the study.

The British Acupuncture Council Research Digest (see link below) looks at some of the more recent studies and trials to have been done into Depression, Anxiety, PTSD and Insomnia

See our own Blog on the research for Acupuncture and depression, anxiety, stress and mental health issues.

Resources:

British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheets exist for the following conditions, including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition: Anxiety; Depression; Insomnia; PTSD, Stress

British Acupuncture Council Research Digest – Mental Heath (toward the bottom of the document)

Helen
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