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Acupuncture: Does it alleviate pain and are there serious risks? A review of reviews

Ernst, E.a,*; Lee, Myeong Sooa,b; Choi, Tae-Youngb

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doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2010.11.004
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Acupuncture is commonly used for pain control, but doubts about its effectiveness and safety remain. This review was aimed at critically evaluating systematic reviews of acupuncture as a treatment of pain and at summarizing reports of serious adverse effects published since 2000. Literature searches were carried out in 11 databases without language restrictions. Systematic reviews were considered for the evaluation of effectiveness and case series or case reports for summarizing adverse events. Data were extracted according to predefined criteria. Fifty-seven systematic reviews met the inclusion criteria. Four were of excellent methodological quality. Numerous contradictions and caveats emerged. Unanimously positive conclusions from more than one high-quality systematic review existed only for neck pain. Ninety-five cases of severe adverse effects including 5 fatalities were included. Pneumothorax and infections were the most frequently reported adverse effects. In conclusion, numerous systematic reviews have generated little truly convincing evidence that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain. Serious adverse effects continue to be reported.

Numerous reviews have produced little convincing evidence that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain. Serious adverse events, including deaths, continue to be reported.

Sponsorships or competing interests that may be relevant to content are disclosed at the end of this article.

aComplementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter & Plymouth, Exeter, UK

bDivision of Standard Research, Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Daejeon, South Korea

*Corresponding author. Address: Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter & Plymouth, 25 Victoria Park Road, Exeter EX2 4NT, UK. Tel.: +44 139 242 4989; fax: +44 139 242 7562.

E-mail: edzard.ernst@pms.ac.uk

Submitted March 17, 2010; revised November 1, 2010; accepted November 3, 2010.

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
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