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J Clin Outcomes Manag. 2009 May 1;16(5):224-230.

Acupuncture for Improving Chronic Back Pain, Osteoarthritis and Headache.

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  • 1Center for Health Studies, Group Health Cooperative, Seattle, WA.



To conduct a critical review of the literature on acupuncture for chronic back pain, osteoarthritis and headache.


Review of meta-analyses, systematic reviews and some well-conducted, recent studies.


Overall, acupuncture appears superior to no treatment or usual care for persons with chronic back pain, osteoarthritis, or headache. However, these findings vary depending on the specific outcome and the follow-up period. The magnitude of the effect varies, but is consistent with a small to moderate effect size in most cases. Moreover, acupuncture is not clearly superior to sham acupuncture, although the latter is a controversial control group. Acupuncture has a favorable safety profile, with relatively few side effects and serious ones quite rare. Limited evidence suggests that acupuncture is a cost effective treatment.


The evidence suggests that acupuncture is a reasonable therapeutic option, but not the clear therapy of choice for any of these conditions. Acupuncture may be especially valuable for patients who prefer it to other options or are concerned about using analgesic medications.

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