(NaturalNews) Once thought by many to be of questionable value, the most complete, detailed and rigorous study of acupuncture to date has found that the procedure can relieve chronic pain, as well as the pain of migraines and arthritis, according to a report by The New York Times.
The latest findings underscore previous scientific data that the timeless therapy used by an estimated three million Americans annually is of immense value to pain sufferers.
The value of acupuncture has been examined for many years, but some of the results of those studies have provided researchers and scientists a mixed and mired picture regarding its benefits. That is due in large part to the fact that most of those studies were either small or of poor quality.
But the new research, financed by the National Institutes of Health and conducted over a period of years, "was a detailed analysis of earlier research that involved data on nearly 18,000 patients," the paper reported.
'Acupuncture is an effective treatment for pain'
Researchers, who published their results in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, found that acupuncture performed better than sham treatments and standard car when utilized by patients suffering from migraines, chronic back, neck and shoulder pain, and osteoarthritis.
"In the primary analysis, including all eligible RCTs (randomized controlled trials), acupuncture was superior to both sham and no-acupuncture control for each pain condition," said a summary of the study's results. "After exclusion of an outlying set of RCTs that strongly favored acupuncture, the effect sizes were similar across pain conditions."
"Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option. Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo," the researchers concluded.
"This has been a controversial subject for a long time," Dr. Andrew J. Vickers, attending research methodologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and the lead author of the study, told the paper. "But when you try to answer the question the right way, as we did, you get very clear answers.
"We think there's firm evidence supporting acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain," he said.
For those who are not familiar with the procedure, acupuncturists use small, sterilized needles, inserted at various places on the body to stimulate acupoints, which in turn produce a variety of results. It's one of the most widely practiced forms of alternative medicine in the U.S. and it is increasingly offered by many hospitals.
Most often, adults seek out acupuncture in search of relief from chronic pain, though the procedure is being increasingly applied to children, according to statistics. Government estimates put the number of children undergoing acupuncture treatments at about 150,000 in 2007, the Times reported.
Despite its growing popularity; however, there are still questions about its effectiveness - questions that have surrounded acupuncture for years. Specifically, those who question its efficacy wonder if the procedure truly relieves pain or if patients are experiencing a psychological effect.
Extensive research looked at most available data
Vickers, along with a team of scientists from around the world, including England, Sweden, and Germany, wanted to know the answers to those questions, so they sought out years of data and pooled the results. According to the Times:
Rather than averaging the results or conclusions from years of previous studies, a common but less rigorous form of meta-analysis, Dr. Vickers and his colleagues first selected 29 randomized studies of acupuncture that they determined to be of high quality. Then they contacted the authors to obtain their raw data, which they scrutinized and pooled for further analysis. This helped them correct for statistical and methodological problems with the previous studies, allowing them to reach more precise and reliable conclusions about whether acupuncture actually works.
That process took nearly six years. "Replicating pretty much every single number reported in dozens of papers is no quick or easy task," said Vickers.
In the end, though, Vickers and his colleagues found that at the completion of their treatment, about half of patients who underwent true acupuncture said their conditions improved, compared to about 30 percent of patients who did not undergo it.
"There were 30 or 40 people from all over the world involved in this research, and as a whole the sense was that this was a clinically important effect size," Vickers said, adding that acupuncture "is relatively noninvasive and relatively safe."