The US continues to produce some surprisingly good acupuncture stories, this one from the Academy of Integrative Pain Management’s 28th Annual Meeting, written up by/for Medscape, an online magazine for all things medical. The article can be accessed here: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/887754?nlid=118855_1982&src=WNL_mdplsnews_171103_mscpedit_fmed&uac=5124HY&spon=34&impID=1473594&faf=1
This made news because the conference speech was delivered by a professor of anaesthesiology, an unusual source for a pro-acupuncture story. He kicked off with some sound bites: ‘I think it’s fair to say that acupuncture is here to stay. It’s going to be a permanent addition to our tool box.’ Dr Ahadian also said ‘to reach their “full potential”, clinicians need to “fully integrate” conventional medicine with alternative therapies, which includes acupuncture.’ In essence, integrative medicine in the US takes two quite different forms. In one, the doctors do the acupuncture; in the other, professional acupuncturists do it. The acupuncturists can even be part of a team of equals who collaboratively design the service and make the clinical decisions, as in this project at Harvard University (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27028029}.
Setting aside what form the integration with biomedicine might take, you have to say the article is great publicity for acupuncture. First of all the author goes through the findings of the excellent Vickers’ meta-analysis for chronic pain, which provides strong evidence that acupuncture is more than just a placebo, and that it gives clinically important benefits for back pain, headache and osteoarthritis. This has been endorsed recently by the National Institute for Health Research (the NHS’s research arm), both in an online article (https://discover.dc.nihr.ac.uk/portal/article/4000746/acupuncture-shown-to-have-benefits-for-treatment-of-some-chronic-pain) and a short Facebook video (https://www.facebook.com/OfficialNIHR/videos/1680474695351290/).
Dr Ahadian then moved onto brain neurology. Various networks connect different areas of the brain with a common function, for example pain processing or managing emotional issues, and it’s been known for some years that acupuncture can help to re-set these when they go out of synch. The article refers to a recent study with patients with knee osteoarthritis. Six acupuncture treatments improved clinical scores (vs sham), which was associated with enhanced functional connectivity in brain networks involved in pain control. As we get to know more about the physiological mechanisms through which acupuncture may work there will surely be more science to underpin the benefits seen by patients in practice.