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Acupuncture for Treatment of Persistent Arm Pain Due to Repetitive Use: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial

Goldman, Rose H. MD, MPH* † ‡; Stason, William B. MD§; Park, Sung Kyun ScD; Kim, Rokho MD, DPH, PhD; Schnyer, Rosa N. LicAc; Davis, Roger B. ScD‡ ♯ **; Legedza, Anna T. R. ScD♯ **; Kaptchuk, Ted J.♯ **

doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31815ec20f
Original Articles

Objective To compare true and sham acupuncture in their abilities to relieve arm pain and improve arm function in individuals with arm pain due to repetitive use.

Methods Participants with persistent arm pain (N=123) were randomly assigned to true or sham acupuncture groups and received 8 treatments over 4 weeks. The primary outcome was intensity of pain (10-point scale) and secondary outcomes were arm symptoms, arm function, and grip strength. Outcomes were measured during treatment (at 2 and 4 wk) and 1 month after treatment ended.

Results Arm pain scores improved in both groups during the treatment period, but improvements were significantly greater in the sham group than in the true acupuncture group. This difference disappeared by 1 month after treatment ended. The true acupuncture group experienced more side effects, predominately mild pain at time of treatments.

Discussion Sham acupuncture reduced arm pain more than true acupuncture during treatment, but the difference did not persist after 1 month. Mild side effects from true acupuncture may have blunted any positive treatment effects. Overall, this study did not find evidence to support the effectiveness of true acupuncture in treatment of persistent arm pain due to repetitive use.

*Department of Medicine, Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge

Department of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health

Osher Institute, Harvard Medical School

**Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA

World Health Organization, Bonn, Germany

Department of Environmental Health, Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, Michigan

§Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA

Sources of support: This study was funded by grant 1RO1 AT00402-01 from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

Reprints: Rose H. Goldman, MD, MPH, Cambridge Hospital, Macht Center, Room 427, 1493 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139 (e-mail:

Received for publication December 24, 2006; revised September 27, 2007; accepted October 14, 2007

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.