Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis



Acupuncture and electroacupuncture for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis


Journal Publication





Research Type

Systematic Review



BACKGROUND: Acupuncture has been used by rehabilitation specialists as an adjunct therapy for the symptomatic treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine where thin needles are inserted in specific documented points believed to represent concentration of body energies. In some cases a small electrical impulse is added to the needles. Once the needles are inserted in some of the appropriate points, endorphins, morphine-like substances, have been shown to be released in the patient's system, thus inducing local or generalised analgesia (pain relief). This review is an update of the original review published in July 2002. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effects of acupuncture or electroacupuncture on the objective and subjective measures of disease activity in patients with RA. SEARCH STRATEGY: A comprehensive search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, PEDro, Current Contents , Sports Discus and CINAHL, initially done in September 2001, was updated in May 2005.The Cochrane Field of Rehabilitation and Related Therapies and the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Review Group were also contacted for a search of their specialized registries. Handsearching was conducted on all retrieved papers and content experts were contacted to identify additional studies. SELECTION CRITERIA: Comparative controlled studies, such as randomized controlled trials and controlled clinical trials in patients with RA were eligible. Trials published in languages other than French and English were not analyzed. Abstracts were excluded unless further data could be obtained from the authors. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two independent reviewers identified potential articles from the literature search and extracted data using pre-defined extraction forms. Consensus was reached on all the extracted data. Quality was assessed by two reviewers using a five point validated tool that measured the quality of randomization, double-blinding and description of withdrawals. MAIN RESULTS: After the updated searches were conducted, five further potential articles were identified; however, these did not meet the inclusion criteria. Two studies involving a total of 84 people were included. One study used acupuncture while the other used electroacupuncture. In the acupuncture study, no statistically significant difference was found between groups for erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), visual analogue scale for patient's global assessment (VAS G), number of swollen joints and tender joints, general health questionnaire (GHQ), modified disease activity scale (DAS) or for the decrease in analgesic intake. Although not statistically significant, pain in the treatment group improved by 4 points on a 0-100mm visual analogue scale versus no improvement in the placebo group. In the second study, using electroacupuncture, a significant decrease in knee pain was reported in the experimental group, 24 hours post treatment, when compared to the placebo group (WMD: -2.0 with 95% CI -3.6,-4.0). A significant decrease was found also at four months post-treatment (WMD -0.2, 95% CI: -0.36, -0.04) AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Although the results of the study on electroacupuncture show that electroacupuncture may be beneficial to reduce symptomatic knee pain in patients with RA 24 hours and 4 months post treatment, the reviewers concluded that the poor quality of the trial, including the small sample size preclude its recommendation. The reviewers further conclude that acupuncture has no effect on ESR, CRP, pain, patient's global assessment, number of swollen joints, number of tender joints, general health, disease activity and reduction of analgesics. These conclusions are limited by methodological considerations such as the type of acupuncture (acupuncture vs electroacupuncture), the site of intervention, the low number of clinical trials and the small sample size of the included studies



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