Have you ever had someone ask if acupuncture has any scientific and clinic basis beyond it’s long history of use?
Despite the easy act of looking in PubMed (a major respected resource for scientific studies) for Acupuncture related articles and over 7,000 hits coming up, there are large Meta-Analysis (Vickers et al. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Oct 22;172(19):1444-53) looking at multiple random controlled trials at once on Acupuncture and Chronic pain showing statistical benefits (P values). However one of my favorites for clinic insight and sheer impressive volume was performed in 1990s, the German Federal Committee of Physicians and Statutory Sickness Funds initiated a large-scale observational study to determine the effectiveness and adverse effects of acupuncture in real-life clinical practice in patients with chronic headache, low back pain and osteoarthritic pain.
The primary outcome was the physicians rating of the therapeutic effects of the acupuncture. Overall, 454,920 patients were analyzed within the first 2 years, with over 3,840,000 acupuncture sessions between them, making this the largest acupuncture study in history as well as one of the largest observational studies in the history of medical research.
Almost half of these patients were treated for chronic low back pain, followed by osteoarthritis and then headache. The physicians involved in the study, who were all medical doctors with training in acupuncture ranging from 140 hours to 350 hours, scored each of their patients to determine if there was improvement from the acupuncture. Overall, 21.8% of patients showed “marked improvement”, 54% showed “moderate improvement”, 16.1% showed “minimal” or slight improvement. Only 3.9% showed no change or got worse and 4.2% were unable to judge, while 9.4% stopped treatment for various reasons. Overall, there were not many adverse effects, those that were are almost unheard of from Licensed Acupucnturists due to far superior clincal training. Somehow the study (performed by MDs) makes the dubious claim that more acupuncture training my MD’s performing acupuncture did not make a difference in safety (comparing I guess 150 hours to maybe 300 hour?) while Licensed Acupuncturists earn approximately 1000 clinical hours in the USA of acupuncture training and have demonstrated higher safety stats elsewhere.
Take in these results considering the question posed at the start of this post. This means 450,000 patients and over 3.8 million acupuncture treatments for over 2 years performed by clinician MDs (who are most likely not advanced at acupuncture) and their success rates for moderate to marked improvement were at roughly 75% in total for all who were in this HUGE trial.
So for lower back, osteoarthritis or headaches – all very common ailments acupuncture can be backed up to show moderate to marked improvement with frequent care (weekly most likely) that involved no major risk to their health statistically and no drug or surgical intervention whcih minimizes the cost and risk of further complications. No matter how acupuncture works, this means it is safe, effective for these conditions – especially when looked at in conjunction to the meta-analysis of chronic pain. And this can only be improved upon with better trained clinicians performing it, as Licensed Acupuncturist are compared to medical doctors, chiropractors or physical therapist who perform acupuncture or dry needling.
This data was gathered by Germany, one of the most respected health systems in the Western world, and their state run insurance agencies ended up covering acupuncture for these medical reasons for the simple and obvious fact that it would reduce the dependence or risk for more costly procedures.
One must ask ourselves then why in America have we not adapted this strategy? Could it be that power and financial interests run deeper in our health care system than others? That medical professions or corporate companies are acting as turf protectors of patient dollars? Capitalism can good for many reasons if it is reigned in for the benefit of the people it is meant to serve. Is our health care serving our best interests and who are making these decisions considering the data that is available on the safety and cost effectiveness on acupuncture for some of our most common medical ailments?