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Acupuncture for treating fibromyalgia

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By By John C Deare, et al. • • June 8, 2013


BACKGROUND: One in five fibromyalgia sufferers use acupuncture treatment within two years of diagnosis.

OBJECTIVES: To examine the benefits and safety of acupuncture treatment for fibromyalgia.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, National Research Register, HSR Project and Current Contents, as well as the Chinese databases VIP and Wangfang to January 2012 with no language restrictions.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised and quasi-randomised studies evaluating any type of invasive acupuncture for fibromyalgia diagnosed according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) criteria, and reporting any main outcome: pain, physical function, fatigue, sleep, total well-being, stiffness and adverse events.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two author pairs selected trials, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. Treatment effects were reported as standardised mean differences (SMD) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for continuous outcomes using different measurement tools (pain, physical function, fatigue, sleep, total well-being and stiffness) and risk ratio (RR) and 95% CI for dichotomous outcomes (adverse events). We pooled data using the random-effects model.

MAIN RESULTS: Nine trials (395 participants) were included. All studies except one were at low risk of selection bias; five were at risk of selective reporting bias (favouring either treatment group); two were subject to attrition bias (favouring acupuncture); three were subject to performance bias (favouring acupuncture) and one to detection bias (favouring acupuncture). Three studies utilised electro-acupuncture (EA) with the remainder using manual acupuncture (MA) without electrical stimulation. All studies used 'formula acupuncture' except for one, which used trigger points.

  • Low quality evidence from one study (13 participants) showed EA improved symptoms with no adverse events at one month following treatment.

  • Mean pain in the non-treatment control group was 70 points on a 100 point scale; EA reduced pain by a mean of 22 points (95% confidence interval (CI) 4 to 41), or 22% absolute improvement.

  • Control group global well-being was 66.5 points on a 100 point scale; EA improved well-being by a mean of 15 points (95% CI 5 to 26 points).

  • Control group stiffness was 4.8 points on a 0 to 10 point; EA reduced stiffness by a mean of 0.9 points (95% CI 0.1 to 2 points; absolute reduction 9%, 95% CI 4% to 16%).

  • Fatigue was 4.5 points (10 point scale) without treatment; EA reduced fatigue by a mean of 1 point (95% CI 0.22 to 2 points), absolute reduction 11% (2% to 20%).

  • There was no difference in sleep quality (MD 0.4 points, 95% CI -1 to 0.21 points, 10 point scale), and physical function was not reported.

  • Moderate quality evidence from six studies (286 participants) indicated that acupuncture (EA or MA) was no better than sham acupuncture, except for less stiffness at one month. Subgroup analysis of two studies (104 participants) indicated benefits of EA.

  • Mean pain was 70 points on 0 to 100 point scale with sham treatment; EA reduced pain by 13% (5% to 22%); (SMD -0.63, 95% CI -1.02 to -0.23).

  • Global well-being was 5.2 points on a 10 point scale with sham treatment; EA improved well-being: SMD 0.65, 95% CI 0.26 to 1.05; absolute improvement 11% (4% to 17%).

  • EA improved sleep, from 3 points on a 0 to 10 point scale in the sham group: SMD 0.40 (95% CI 0.01 to 0.79); absolute improvement 8% (0.2% to 16%).

  • Low-quality evidence from one study suggested that MA group resulted in poorer physical function: mean function in the sham group was 28 points (100 point scale); treatment worsened function by a mean of 6 points (95% CI -10.9 to -0.7).

  • Low-quality evidence from three trials (289 participants) suggested no difference in adverse events between real (9%) and sham acupuncture (35%); RR 0.44 (95% CI 0.12 to 1.63).

  • Moderate quality evidence from one study (58 participants) found that compared with standard therapy alone (antidepressants and exercise), adjunct acupuncture therapy reduced pain at one month after treatment: mean pain was 8 points on a 0 to 10 point scale in the standard therapy group; treatment reduced pain by 3 points (95% CI -3.9 to -2.1), an absolute reduction of 30% (21% to 39%).

  • Two people treated with acupuncture reported adverse events; there were none in the control group (RR 3.57; 95% CI 0.18 to 71.21). Global well-being, sleep, fatigue and stiffness were not reported. Physical function data were not usable.

  • Low quality evidence from one study (38 participants) showed a short-term benefit of acupuncture over antidepressants in pain relief: mean pain was 29 points (0 to 100 point scale) in the antidepressant group; acupuncture reduced pain by 17 points (95% CI -24.1 to -10.5). Other outcomes or adverse events were not reported.

  • Moderate-quality evidence from one study (41 participants) indicated that deep needling with or without deqi did not differ in pain, fatigue, function or adverse events. Other outcomes were not reported.

  • Four studies reported no differences between acupuncture and control or other treatments described at six to seven months follow-up. No serious adverse events were reported, but there were insufficient adverse events to be certain of the risks.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is low to moderate-level evidence that compared with no treatment and standard therapy, acupuncture improves pain and stiffness in people with fibromyalgia. There is moderate-level evidence that the effect of acupuncture does not differ from sham acupuncture in reducing pain or fatigue, or improving sleep or global well-being. EA is probably better than MA for pain and stiffness reduction and improvement of global well-being, sleep and fatigue. The effect lasts up to one month, but is not maintained at six months follow-up. MA probably does not improve pain or physical functioning. Acupuncture appears safe. People with fibromyalgia may consider using EA alone or with exercise and medication. The small sample size, scarcity of studies for each comparison, lack of an ideal sham acupuncture weaken the level of evidence and its clinical implications. Larger studies are warranted.

Source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, May 31, 2013. By John C Deare, Zhen Zheng, Charlie CL Xue, Jian Ping Liu, Jingsheng Shang, Sean W Scott, and Geoff Littlejohn. Compmed Health Institute, Southport, Queensland, Australia; and Traditional & Complementary Medicine Program, Health Innovations Research Institute, Discipline of Chinese Medicine, School of Health Sciences, RMIT University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia, 3083.

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