FORT BRAGG, NC — While acupuncture is characterized as an alternative or complementary medicine with a low complication rate and minimal side effects, questions remain on whether acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic pain.

A study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain sought to determine which—if any—characteristics can predict successful response to acupuncture in chronic pain patients treated at military treatment facilities.1

To do that, Womack Army Medical Center-led researchers collected data from 222 patients who received treatment for a chronic pain condition at two medical centers. Patients underwent at least four acupuncture treatments and had an average pain score of 4 or higher on a 0- to 10-point numerical rating scale or visual analog scale in the week before treatment initiation.

A successful outcome was defined to be a 2-point or greater reduction on the numerical rating scale or visual analog scale 12 weeks postinitial treatment.

Results indicated that the overall treatment success rate was 42.3%. Multivariate logistic regression found a higher baseline pain rating and the use of stimulation needles to be associated with a positive outcome (odds ratio [OR]=1.26; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03-1.55; P=0.02 and OR=2.73; 95% CI, 1.39-5.32; P=0.03, respectively).

Treatment failure was found to be associated only with the presence of one or more psychological comorbidities. (OR=0.67; 95% CI, 0.49-0.92; P=0.01).

“The use of electrical stimulation and higher baseline pain score were associated with a positive treatment outcome, while the presence of a psychological comorbidity diminished the likelihood of treatment success,” study authors wrote. “Practitioners should consider using electrical stimulation more frequently, and addressing psychopathology before or concurrent to treatment, when initiating acupuncture.”

1Plunkett A, Beltran T, Haley C, Kurihara C, McCoart A, Chen L, Wilkinson I,
Cohen SP. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Chronic Pain in the Military Population: Factors Associated With Treatment Outcomes. Clin J Pain. 2017 Oct;33(10):939-943. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0000000000000518. PubMed PMID: 28872474.