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Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of research

Programme Grants for Applied Research, No. 5.3

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Author Information
Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; .

Headline

The programme of research found that acupuncture was more effective than usual care and sham acupuncture for chronic pain, that it was one of the more clinically effective physical therapies for osteoarthritis and that it showed benefits in the treatment of depression.

Abstract

Background:

There has been an increase in the utilisation of acupuncture in recent years, yet the evidence base is insufficiently well established to be certain about its clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Addressing the questions related to the evidence base will reduce uncertainty and help policy- and decision-makers with regard to whether or not wider access is appropriate and provides value for money.

Aim:

Our aim was to establish the most reliable evidence on the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of acupuncture for chronic pain by drawing on relevant evidence, including recent high-quality trials, and to develop fresh evidence on acupuncture for depression. To extend the evidence base we synthesised the results of published trials using robust systematic review methodology and conducted a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of acupuncture for depression.

Methods and results:

We synthesised the evidence from high-quality trials of acupuncture for chronic pain, consisting of musculoskeletal pain related to the neck and low back, osteoarthritis of the knee, and headache and migraine, involving nearly 18,000 patients. In an individual patient data (IPD) pairwise meta-analysis, acupuncture was significantly better than both sham acupuncture (p < 0.001) and usual care (p < 0.001) for all conditions. Using network meta-analyses, we compared acupuncture with other physical therapies for osteoarthritis of the knee. In both an analysis of all available evidence and an analysis of a subset of better-quality trials, using aggregate-level data, we found acupuncture to be one of the more effective therapies. We developed new Bayesian methods for analysing multiple individual patient-level data sets to evaluate heterogeneous continuous outcomes. An accompanying cost-effectiveness analysis found transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to be cost-effective for osteoarthritis at a threshold of £20,000 per quality-adjusted life-year when all trials were synthesised. When the analysis was restricted to trials of higher quality with adequate allocation concealment, acupuncture was cost-effective. In a RCT of acupuncture or counselling compared with usual care for depression, in which half the patients were also experiencing comorbid pain, we found acupuncture and counselling to be clinically effective and acupuncture to be cost-effective. For patients in whom acupuncture is inappropriate or unavailable, counselling is cost-effective.

Conclusion:

We have provided the most robust evidence from high-quality trials on acupuncture for chronic pain. The synthesis of high-quality IPD found that acupuncture was more effective than both usual care and sham acupuncture. Acupuncture is one of the more clinically effective physical therapies for osteoarthritis and is also cost-effective if only high-quality trials are analysed. When all trials are analysed, TENS is cost-effective. Promising clinical and economic evidence on acupuncture for depression needs to be extended to other contexts and settings. For the conditions we have investigated, the drawing together of evidence on acupuncture from this programme of research has substantially reduced levels of uncertainty. We have identified directions for further research. Our research also provides a valuable basis for considering the potential role of acupuncture as a referral option in health care and enabling providers and policy-makers to make decisions based on robust sources of evidence.

Trial registration:

Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN63787732.

Funding:

The National Institute for Health Research Programme Grants for Applied Research programme.

Contents

About the Series

Programme Grants for Applied Research
ISSN (Print): 2050-4322
ISSN (Electronic): 2050-4330

Article history

The research reported in this issue of the journal was funded by PGfAR as project number RP-PG-0707-10186. The contractual start date was in April 2009. The final report began editorial review in February 2015 and was accepted for publication in January 2016. As the funder, the PGfAR programme agreed the research questions and study designs in advance with the investigators. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The PGfAR editors and production house have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors’ report and would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive comments on the final report document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising from material published in this report.

Declared competing interests of authors

Mark Sculpher reports grants from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) during the conduct of the study and personal fees from various pharmaceutical and other life science companies outside the submitted work. Andrea Manca reports grants from NIHR during the conduct of the study. Beth Woods reports grants from the NIHR during the conduct of the study.

Last reviewed: February 2015; Accepted: January 2016.

Copyright © Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2017. This work was produced by MacPherson et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.

Included under terms of UK Non-commercial Government License.

Bookshelf ID: NBK409491PMID: 28121095DOI: 10.3310/pgfar05030

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