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1.  Patients’ experiences and expectations of chiropractic care: a national cross-sectional survey 
Not enough is understood about patients’ views of chiropractic care. The aims of this research were to explore patients’ experiences and expectations, their perceptions of benefits and risks, and the implications for chiropractors’ continuing fitness to practise.
Survey questions were formulated from existing literature, published guidance on good practice from the General Chiropractic Council, and from 28 telephone interviews and a small focus group with chiropractic patients using a semi-structured topic guide. In its final form, the survey elicited patients’ ratings on expectations regarding 33 aspects of care. In a national cross-sectional survey, a number of sampling methods were required as a consequence of the low practitioner response rate.
In total, 544 completed questionnaires were received from chiropractic patients, a lower response rate than expected (8%). The two main benefits that patients reported regarding their chiropractic care were reduced pain (92%) and increased mobility (80%). Of respondents, 20% reported unexpected or unpleasant reactions to their treatment, most commonly tiredness or fatigue (32%), and extra pain (36%). In most cases they expressed low levels of concern about these reactions. Patients’ expectations were met for most aspects of care. The four aspects of practice where expectations were least well met comprised: having more information on the cost of the treatment plan at the first consultation (80%); the chiropractor contacting the patient’s general practitioner if necessary (62%); having a discussion about a referral to another healthcare practitioner (62%); and providing a method for confidential feedback (66%).
Overall, patients reported a high level of satisfaction with the benefits of their chiropractic care, although there is a likelihood of bias towards patients with a positive experience of chiropractic. There were no serious adverse reactions; however, patients reported concern about pain, tingling and numbness in the limbs after chiropractic. In general, patients’ expectations were being well met.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12998-014-0049-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4307916  PMID: 25628858
Chiropractic; Patients’ expectations; Patients’ experiences; Risk; Benefit; Fitness to practice
2.  Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Acupuncture, Counselling and Usual Care in Treating Patients with Depression: The Results of the ACUDep Trial 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(11):e113726.
New evidence on the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture plus usual care (acupuncture) and counselling plus usual care (counselling) for patients with depression suggests the need to investigate the health-related quality of life and costs of these treatments to understand whether they should be considered a good use of limited health resources.
Methods and Findings
The cost-effectiveness analyses are based on the Acupuncture, Counselling or Usual care for Depression (ACUDep) trial results. Statistical analyses demonstrate a difference in mean quality adjusted life years (QALYs) and suggest differences in mean costs which are mainly due to the price of the interventions. Probabilistic sensitivity analysis is used to express decision uncertainty. Acupuncture and counselling are found to have higher mean QALYs and costs than usual care. In the base case analysis acupuncture has an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) of £4,560 per additional QALY and is cost-effective with a probability of 0.62 at a cost-effectiveness threshold of £20,000 per QALY. Counselling compared with acupuncture is more effective and more costly with an ICER of £71,757 and a probability of being cost-effective of 0.36. A scenario analysis of counselling versus usual care, excluding acupuncture as a comparator, results in an ICER of £7,935 and a probability of 0.91.
Acupuncture is cost-effective compared with counselling or usual care alone, although the ranking of counselling and acupuncture depends on the relative cost of delivering these interventions. For patients in whom acupuncture is unavailable or perhaps inappropriate, counselling has an ICER less than most cost-effectiveness thresholds. However, further research is needed to determine the most cost-effective treatment pathways for depressed patients when the full range of available interventions is considered.
PMCID: PMC4245224  PMID: 25426637
3.  Practitioner Perspectives on Strategies to Promote Longer-Term Benefits of Acupuncture or Counselling for Depression: A Qualitative Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e104077.
Non-pharmacological interventions for depression may help patients manage their condition. Evidence from a recent large-scale trial (ACUDep) suggests that acupuncture and counselling can provide longer-term benefits for many patients with depression. This paper describes the strategies practitioners reported using to promote longer-term benefits for their patients.
A qualitative sub-study of practitioners (acupuncturists and counsellors) embedded in a randomised controlled trial. Using topic guides, data was collected from telephone interviews and a focus group, altogether involving 19 counsellors and 17 acupuncturists. Data were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic content analysis.
For longer-term impact, both acupuncturists and counsellors encouraged insight into root causes of depression on an individual basis and saw small incremental changes as precursors to sustained benefit. Acupuncturists stressed the importance of addressing concurrent physical symptoms, for example helping patients relax or sleep better in order to be more receptive to change, and highlighted the importance of Chinese medicine theory-based lifestyle change for lasting benefit. Counsellors more often highlighted the importance of the therapeutic relationship, emphasising the need for careful “pacing” such that the process and tools employed were tailored and timed for each individual, depending on the “readiness” to change. Our data is limited to acupuncture practitioners using the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, and counsellors using a humanistic, non-directive and person-centred approach.
Long-term change appears to be an important focus within the practices of both acupuncturists and counsellors. To achieve this, practitioners stressed the need for an individualised approach with a focus on root causes.
PMCID: PMC4157770  PMID: 25198108
4.  Patients’ experiences of acupuncture and counselling for depression and comorbid pain: a qualitative study nested within a randomised controlled trial 
BMJ Open  2014;4(6):e005144.
Depression and pain frequently occur together and impact on outcomes of existing treatment for depression. Additional treatment options are required. This study aimed to explore patients’ experiences of depression, the processes of change within acupuncture and counselling, and the elements that contributed to longer-term change.
In a substudy nested within a randomised controlled trial of acupuncture or counselling compared with usual care alone for depression, semistructured interviews of 52 purposively sampled participants were conducted and analysed using thematic analysis.
Differences were reported by participants regarding their experience of depression with comorbid pain compared with depression alone. Along with physical symptoms often related to fatigue and sleep, participants with depression and comorbid pain generally had fewer internal and external resources available to manage their depression effectively. Those who had physical symptoms and were receiving acupuncture commonly reported that these were addressed as part of the treatment. For those receiving counselling, there was less emphasis on physical symptoms and more on help with gaining an understanding of themselves and their situation. Over the course of treatment, most participants in both groups reported receiving support to cope with depression and pain independently of treatment, with a focus on relevant lifestyle and behaviour changes. The establishment of a therapeutic relationship and their active engagement as participants were identified as important components of treatment.
Participants with and without comorbid pain received acupuncture or counselling for depression, and reported specific identifiable treatment effects. The therapeutic relationship and participants’ active engagement in recovery may play distinct roles in driving long-term change. Patients who present with depression and physical symptoms of care may wish to consider a short course of acupuncture to relieve symptoms prior to a referral for counselling if needed.
Trial registration number
PMCID: PMC4054660  PMID: 24902735
Depression; Pain Management ; Primary Care; Mental Health
5.  Influence of Control Group on Effect Size in Trials of Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: A Secondary Analysis of an Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e93739.
In a recent individual patient data meta-analysis, acupuncture was found to be superior to both sham and non-sham controls in patients with chronic pain. In this paper we identify variations in types of sham and non-sham controls used and analyze their impact on the effect size of acupuncture.
Based on literature searches of acupuncture trials involving patients with headache and migraine, osteoarthritis, and back, neck and shoulder pain, 29 trials met inclusion criteria, 20 involving sham controls (n = 5,230) and 18 non-sham controls (n = 14,597). For sham controls, we analysed non-needle sham, penetrating sham needles and non-penetrating sham needles. For non-sham controls, we analysed non-specified routine care and protocol-guided care. Using meta-regression we explored impact of choice of control on effect of acupuncture.
Acupuncture was significantly superior to all categories of control group. For trials that used penetrating needles for sham control, acupuncture had smaller effect sizes than for trials with non-penetrating sham or sham control without needles. The difference in effect size was −0.45 (95% C.I. −0.78, −0.12; p = 0.007), or −0.19 (95% C.I. −0.39, 0.01; p = 0.058) after exclusion of outlying studies showing very large effects of acupuncture. In trials with non-sham controls, larger effect sizes associated with acupuncture vs. non-specified routine care than vs. protocol-guided care. Although the difference in effect size was large (0.26), it was not significant with a wide confidence interval (95% C.I. −0.05, 0.57, p = 0.1).
Acupuncture is significantly superior to control irrespective of the subtype of control. While the choice of control should be driven by the study question, our findings can help inform study design in acupuncture, particularly with respect to sample size. Penetrating needles appear to have important physiologic activity. We recommend that this type of sham be avoided.
PMCID: PMC3976298  PMID: 24705624
6.  Responses to the Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration individual patient data meta-analysis 
In September 2012, the Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration published the results of an individual patient data meta-analysis of close to 18,000 patients in high quality-randomized trials. The results favored acupuncture. Although there was little argument about the findings in the scientific press, a controversy played out in blog posts and the lay press. This controversy was characterized by ad hominem remarks, anonymous criticism, phony expertise, and the use of opinion to contradict data, predominately by self-proclaimed skeptics. There was a near complete absence of substantive scientific critque. The lack of any reasoned debate about the main findings of the Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration paper underlines that mainstream science has moved on from the intellectual sterility and ad hominem attacks that characterize the skeptics’ movement.
PMCID: PMC3658608  PMID: 23449559
Pain; Skepticism; Headache; Acupuncture; Statistics and Research Design
8.  Acupuncture for chronic pain: individual patient data meta-analysis 
Archives of internal medicine  2012;172(19):1444-1453.
Although acupuncture is widely used for chronic pain, there remains considerable controversy as to its value. We aimed to determine the effect size of acupuncture for four chronic pain conditions: back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain.
We conducted a systematic review to identify randomized trials of acupuncture for chronic pain where allocation concealment was determined unambiguously to be adequate. Individual patient data meta-analyses were conducted using data from 29 of 31 eligible trials, with a total of 17,922 patients analyzed.
In the primary analysis including all eligible trials, acupuncture was superior to both sham and no acupuncture control for each pain condition (all p<0.001). After exclusion of an outlying set of trials that strongly favored acupuncture, the effect sizes were similar across pain conditions. Patients receiving acupuncture had less pain, with scores 0.23 (95% C.I. 0.13, 0.33), 0.16 (95% C.I. 0.07, 0.25) and 0.15 (95% C.I. 0.07, 0.24) standard deviations lower than sham controls for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache respectively; the effect sizes in comparison to no acupuncture controls were 0.55 (95% C.I. 0.51, 0.58), 0.57 (95% C.I. 0.50, 0.64) and 0.42 (95% C.I. 0.37, 0.46). These results were robust to a variety of sensitivity analyses, including those related to publication bias.
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. However, these differences are relatively modest, suggesting that factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors to the therapeutic effects of acupuncture.
PMCID: PMC3658605  PMID: 22965186
9.  Characteristics of Acupuncture Treatment Associated with Outcome: An Individual Patient Meta-Analysis of 17,922 Patients with Chronic Pain in Randomised Controlled Trials  
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e77438.
Recent evidence shows that acupuncture is effective for chronic pain. However we do not know whether there are characteristics of acupuncture or acupuncturists that are associated with better or worse outcomes.
An existing dataset, developed by the Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration, included 29 trials of acupuncture for chronic pain with individual data involving 17,922 patients. The available data on characteristics of acupuncture included style of acupuncture, point prescription, location of needles, use of electrical stimulation and moxibustion, number, frequency and duration of sessions, number of needles used and acupuncturist experience. We used random-effects meta-regression to test the effect of each characteristic on the main effect estimate of pain. Where sufficient patient-level data were available, we conducted patient-level analyses.
When comparing acupuncture to sham controls, there was little evidence that the effects of acupuncture on pain were modified by any of the acupuncture characteristics evaluated, including style of acupuncture, the number or placement of needles, the number, frequency or duration of sessions, patient-practitioner interactions and the experience of the acupuncturist. When comparing acupuncture to non-acupuncture controls, there was little evidence that these characteristics modified the effect of acupuncture, except better pain outcomes were observed when more needles were used (p=0.010) and, from patient level analysis involving a sub-set of five trials, when a higher number of acupuncture treatment sessions were provided (p<0.001).
There was little evidence that different characteristics of acupuncture or acupuncturists modified the effect of treatment on pain outcomes. Increased number of needles and more sessions appear to be associated with better outcomes when comparing acupuncture to non-acupuncture controls, suggesting that dose is important. Potential confounders include differences in control group and sample size between trials. Trials to evaluate potentially small differences in outcome associated with different acupuncture characteristics are likely to require large sample sizes.
PMCID: PMC3795671  PMID: 24146995
10.  Acupuncture and Counselling for Depression in Primary Care: A Randomised Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(9):e1001518.
In a randomized controlled trial, Hugh MacPherson and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of acupuncture and counseling compared with usual care alone for the treatment of depression symptoms in primary care settings.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Depression is a significant cause of morbidity. Many patients have communicated an interest in non-pharmacological therapies to their general practitioners. Systematic reviews of acupuncture and counselling for depression in primary care have identified limited evidence. The aim of this study was to evaluate acupuncture versus usual care and counselling versus usual care for patients who continue to experience depression in primary care.
Methods and Findings
In a randomised controlled trial, 755 patients with depression (Beck Depression Inventory BDI-II score ≥20) were recruited from 27 primary care practices in the North of England. Patients were randomised to one of three arms using a ratio of 2∶2∶1 to acupuncture (302), counselling (302), and usual care alone (151). The primary outcome was the difference in mean Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) scores at 3 months with secondary analyses over 12 months follow-up. Analysis was by intention-to-treat.
PHQ-9 data were available for 614 patients at 3 months and 572 patients at 12 months. Patients attended a mean of ten sessions for acupuncture and nine sessions for counselling. Compared to usual care, there was a statistically significant reduction in mean PHQ-9 depression scores at 3 months for acupuncture (−2.46, 95% CI −3.72 to −1.21) and counselling (−1.73, 95% CI −3.00 to −0.45), and over 12 months for acupuncture (−1.55, 95% CI −2.41 to −0.70) and counselling (−1.50, 95% CI −2.43 to −0.58). Differences between acupuncture and counselling were not significant. In terms of limitations, the trial was not designed to separate out specific from non-specific effects. No serious treatment-related adverse events were reported.
In this randomised controlled trial of acupuncture and counselling for patients presenting with depression, after having consulted their general practitioner in primary care, both interventions were associated with significantly reduced depression at 3 months when compared to usual care alone.
Trial Registration ISRCTN63787732
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Depression–overwhelming sadness and hopelessness–is responsible for a substantial proportion of the global disease burden and is a major cause of suicide. It affects more than 350 million people worldwide and about one in six people will have an episode of depression during their lifetime. Depression is different from everyday mood fluctuations. For people who are clinically depressed, feelings of severe sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and worthlessness can last for months and years. Affected individuals lose interest in activities they used to enjoy and sometimes have physical symptoms such as disturbed sleep. Clinicians can diagnose depression and determine its severity by asking patients to complete a questionnaire (for example, the Beck Depression Inventory [BDI-II] or the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 [PHQ-9]) about their feelings and symptoms. The answer to each question is given a score and the total score from the questionnaire (“depression rating scale”) indicates the severity of depression. Antidepressant drugs are usually the front-line treatment for depression in primary care.
Why Was This Study Done?
Unfortunately, antidepressants don't work for more than half of patients. Moreover, many patients would like to be offered non-pharmacological treatment options for depression such as acupuncture–a therapy originating from China in which fine needles are inserted into the skin at specific points of the body–and counseling–a “talking therapy” that provides patients with a safe, non-judgmental place to express feelings and emotions and that helps them recognize their capacity for growth and fulfillment. However, it is unclear whether either of these treatments is effective in depression. In this pragmatic randomized controlled trial, the researchers investigate the clinical effectiveness of acupuncture or counseling in patients with depression compared to usual care in primary care in northern England. A randomized controlled trial compares outcomes in groups of patients who are assigned to different interventions through the play of chance. A pragmatic trial asks whether the intervention works under real-life conditions. Patient selection reflects routine practice and some aspects of the intervention are left to the discretion of clinician, By contrast, an explanatory trial asks whether an intervention works under ideal conditions and involves a strict protocol for patient selection and treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited 755 patients who had consulted their primary health care provider about depression within the past 5 years and who had a score of more than 20 on the BDI-II–a score that is defined as moderate-to-severe depression on this depression rating scale–at the start of the study. Patients were randomized to receive up to 12 weekly sessions of acupuncture plus usual care (302 patients), up to 12 weekly sessions of counseling plus usual care (302 patients), or usual care alone (151 patients). Both the acupuncture protocol and the counseling protocols allowed for some individualization of treatment. Usual care, including antidepressants, was available according to need and monitored in all three groups. Compared to usual care alone, there was a significant reduction (a reduction unlikely to have occurred by chance) in the average PHQ-9 scores at both 3 and 6 months for both the acupuncture and counseling interventions. The difference between the mean PHQ-9 score for acupuncture and counseling was not significant. At 9 months and 12 months, because of improvements in the PHQ-9 scores in the usual care group, acupuncture and counseling were no longer significantly better than usual care.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, compared to usual care alone, both acupuncture and counseling when provided alongside usual care provided significant benefits at 3 months in primary care to patients with recurring depression. Because this trial was a pragmatic trial, these findings cannot indicate which aspects of acupuncture and counseling are likely to be most or least beneficial. Nevertheless they do provide an estimate of the overall effects of these complex interventions, an estimate that is of most interest to patients, practitioners, and health care providers. Moreover, because this trial only considers the effect of these interventions on patients with moderate-to-severe depression as classified by the BDI-II; it provides no information about the effectiveness of acupuncture or counseling compared to usual care for patients with mild depression. Importantly, however, these findings suggest that further research into optimal treatment regimens for the treatment of depression with acupuncture and counseling is merited.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institute of Mental Health provides information on all aspects of depression (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides detailed information about depression, including personal stories about depression, and information on counseling and acupuncture
The UK charity Mind provides information on depression, on talking treatments, and on complementary and alternative therapies including acupuncture; Mind also includes personal stories about depression on its website
More personal stories about depression are available from Healthtalkonline
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about depression and about acupuncture (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC3782410  PMID: 24086114
11.  Copper Bracelets and Magnetic Wrist Straps for Rheumatoid Arthritis – Analgesic and Anti-Inflammatory Effects: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Crossover Trial 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e71529.
Folklore remedies for pain and inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis include the application of magnets and copper to the skin. Despite the popular use of devices containing magnets or copper for this purpose, little research has been conducted to evaluate the efficacy of such treatments.
To investigate whether the practice of wearing magnetic wrists straps, or copper bracelets, offers any specific therapeutic benefit for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Randomised double-blind placebo-controlled crossover trial.
70 patients, aged 33 to 79 years and predominantly female (n = 52), with painful rheumatoid arthritis were recruited from general practices within Yorkshire. Participants were randomly allocated to wear four devices in a different order. Devices tested were: a standard (1502 to 2365 gauss) magnetic wrist strap, a demagnetised (<20 gauss) wrist strap, an attenuated (250 to 350 gauss) magnetic wrist strap, and a copper bracelet. Devices were each worn for five weeks, with treatment phases being separated by one week wash-out periods. The primary outcome measured was pain using a 100 mm visual analogue scale. Secondary pain measures were the McGill Pain Questionnaire and tender joint count. Inflammation was assessed using C-reactive protein and plasma viscosity blood tests and by swollen joint count. Physical function was assessed using the Health Assessment Questionnaire (Disability Index). Disease activity and medication use was also measured.
65 participants provided complete self-report outcome data for all devices, four participants provided partial data. Analysis of treatment outcomes did not reveal any statistically significant differences (P>0.05) between the four devices in terms of their effects on pain, inflammation, physical function, disease activity, or medication use.
Wearing a magnetic wrist strap or a copper bracelet did not appear to have any meaningful therapeutic effect, beyond that of a placebo, for alleviating symptoms and combating disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis.
Trial Registration ISRCTN51459023 ISRCTN51459023.
PMCID: PMC3774818  PMID: 24066023
12.  Alexander Technique Lessons, Acupuncture Sessions or usual care for patients with chronic neck pain (ATLAS): study protocol for a randomised controlled trial 
Trials  2013;14:209.
Chronic neck pain is a common condition in the adult population. More research is needed to evaluate interventions aiming to facilitate beneficial long-term change. We propose to evaluate the effect of Alexander Technique lessons and acupuncture in a rigorously conducted pragmatic trial with an embedded qualitative study.
We will recruit 500 patients who have been diagnosed with neck pain in primary care, who have continued to experience neck pain for at least three months with 28% minimum cut-off score on the Northwick Park Neck Pain Questionnaire (NPQ). We will exclude patients with serious underlying pathology, prior cervical spine surgery, history of psychosis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, osteoporosis, haemophilia, cancer, HIV or hepatitis, or with alcohol or drug dependency currently or in the last 12 months, or actively pursuing compensation or with pending litigation.
The York Trials Unit will randomly allocate participants using a secure computer-based system. We will use block randomisation with allocation to each intervention arm being unambiguously concealed from anyone who might subvert the randomisation process.
Participants will be randomised in equal proportions to Alexander Technique lessons, acupuncture or usual care alone. Twenty 30-minute Alexander Technique lessons will be provided by teachers registered with the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique and twelve 50-minute sessions of acupuncture will be provided by acupuncturists registered with the British Acupuncture Council. All participants will continue to receive usual GP care.
The primary outcome will be the NPQ at 12 months, with the secondary time point at 6 months, and an area-under-curve analysis will include 3, 6 and 12 month time-points. Adverse events will be documented. Potential intervention effect modifiers and mediators to be explored include: self-efficacy, stress management, and the incorporation of practitioner advice about self-care and lifestyle. Qualitative material will be used to address issues of safety, acceptability and factors that impact on longer term outcomes.
This study will provide robust evidence on whether there are significant clinical benefits to patients, economic benefits demonstrating value for money, and sufficient levels of acceptability and safety.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN15186354
PMCID: PMC3720220  PMID: 23841901
13.  The Acceptability of Acupuncture for Low Back Pain: A Qualitative Study of Patient’s Experiences Nested within a Randomised Controlled Trial 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e56806.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines recommend acupuncture as a clinically effective treatment for chronic back pain. However, there is insufficient knowledge of what factors contribute to patients’ positive and negative experiences of acupuncture, and how those factors interact in terms of the acceptability of treatment. This study used patient interviews following acupuncture treatment for back pain to identify, understand and describe the elements that contribute or detract from acceptability of treatment.
The study used semi-structured interviews. Twelve patients were interviewed using an interview schedule as a sub-study nested within a randomised controlled trial of acupuncture for chronic back pain. The interviews were analysed using thematic analysis.
Results and Discussion
Three over-arching themes emerged from the analysis. The first entitled facilitators of acceptability contained five subthemes; experience of pain relief, improvements in physical activity, relaxation, psychological benefit, reduced reliance on medication. The second over-arching theme identified barriers to acceptability, which included needle-related discomfort and temporary worsening of symptoms, pressure to continue treatment and financial cost. The third over-arching theme comprised mediators of acceptability, which included pre-treatment mediators such as expectation and previous experience, and treatment-related mediators of time, therapeutic alliance, lifestyle advice and the patient’s active involvement in recovery. These themes inform our understanding of the acceptability of acupuncture to patients with low back pain.
The acceptability of acupuncture treatment for low back pain is complex and multifaceted. The therapeutic relationship between the practitioner and patient emerged as a strong driver for acceptability, and as a useful vehicle to develop the patients’ self-efficacy in pain management in the longer term. Unpleasant treatment related effects do not necessarily detract from patients’ overall perception of acceptability.
PMCID: PMC3578863  PMID: 23437246
14.  Acupuncture, Counseling, and Usual care for Depression (ACUDep): study protocol for a randomized controlled trial 
Trials  2012;13:209.
The evidence on the effect of acupuncture or counseling for depression is not conclusive yet is sufficient to warrant further research. Our aim is to conduct a full-scale RCT to determine the clinical and cost effectiveness of acupuncture and counseling compared to usual care alone. We will explore the experiences and perspectives of patients and practitioners.
Randomized controlled trial with three parallel arms: acupuncture plus usual care, counseling plus usual care, and usual care alone, in conjunction with a nested qualitative study using in-depth interviews with purposive samples of trial participants.
Participants: Patients aged over 18 years diagnosed with depression or mood disorder by their GP and with a score of 20 or above on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II).
Randomization: Computer randomization by York Trials Unit to acupuncture, counseling, and usual care alone in proportions of 2:2:1, respectively, with secure allocation concealment.
Interventions: Patients allocated to acupuncture and counseling groups receive the offer of up to 12 weekly sessions. Both interventions allow flexibility to address patient variation, yet are constrained within defined protocols. Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine and counseling is non-directive within the humanistic tradition.
Outcome: The PHQ-9 is the primary outcome measure, collected at baseline, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. Also measured is BDI-II, SF-36 Bodily pain subscale, and EQ-5D. Texted mood scores are collected weekly over the first 15 weeks. Health-related resource use is collected over 12 months.
Analysis: The sample size target was for 640 participants, calculated for an effect size of 0.32 on the PHQ-9 when comparing acupuncture with counseling given 90% power, 5% significance, and 20% loss to follow-up. Analysis of covariance will be used on an intention-to-treat basis. Thematic analysis will be used for qualitative data. We will compare incremental cost-effectiveness of the three treatment options at 12 months.
Ethical approval was obtained in October 2009. There were six subsequent protocol amendments, the last of which was approved in January 2012. Recruitment of 755 participants took place over 18 months. Data collection will be completed by June 2012. No interim analyses have been conducted.
Trial registration
PMCID: PMC3582576  PMID: 23151156
Depression; Acupuncture; Counseling; Primary care; Randomized controlled trial; Effectiveness; Cost-effectiveness
15.  Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome: primary care based pragmatic randomised controlled trial 
BMC Gastroenterology  2012;12:150.
Acupuncture is used by patients as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) but the evidence on effectiveness is limited. The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome in primary care when provided as an adjunct to usual care.
Design: A two-arm pragmatic randomised controlled trial.
Setting: Primary care in the United Kingdom.
Patients: 233 patients had irritable bowel syndrome with average duration of 13 years and score of at least 100 on the IBS Symptom Severity Score (SSS).
Interventions: 116 patients were offered 10 weekly individualised acupuncture sessions plus usual care, 117 patients continued with usual care alone.
Measurements: Primary outcome was the IBS SSS at three months, with outcome data collected every three months to 12 months.
There was a statistically significant difference between groups at three months favouring acupuncture with a reduction in IBS Symptom Severity Score of −27.43 (95% CI: –48.66 to −6.21, p = 0.012). The number needed to treat for successful treatment (≥50 point reduction in the IBS SSS) was six (95% CI: 3 to 17), based on 49% success in the acupuncture group vs. 31% in the control group, a difference between groups of 18% (95% CI: 6% to 31%). This benefit largely persisted at 6, 9 and 12 months.
Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome provided an additional benefit over usual care alone. The magnitude of the effect was sustained over the longer term. Acupuncture should be considered as a treatment option to be offered in primary care alongside other evidenced based treatments.
Trial Registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN08827905
PMCID: PMC3556159  PMID: 23095376
Acupuncture; Irritable bowel syndrome; Randomised controlled trial; Primary care
16.  Cost-effectiveness of acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome: findings from an economic evaluation conducted alongside a pragmatic randomised controlled trial in primary care 
BMC Gastroenterology  2012;12:149.
There is insufficient evidence to determine whether acupuncture is a cost-effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. The objective of this study is to assess the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture as an adjunct to usual care versus usual care alone for the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Cost-utility analysis conducted alongside a pragmatic, multicentre, randomised controlled trial. 233 patients with irritable bowel syndrome were randomly allocated to either acupuncture plus usual care, or usual care alone. Cost-effectiveness outcomes are expressed in terms of incremental cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY) at one year after randomisation. Costs were estimated from the UK National Health Service perspective for a time horizon of one year. Cost-utility ratios were estimated based on complete case analysis for the base case analysis, where only patients with available EQ-5D and cost data were included. Sensitivity analyses comprised a multiple imputation approach for missing data and a subgroup analysis for the more severe cases of IBS.
The base case analysis showed acupuncture to be marginally more effective than usual care (gain of 0.0035 QALYs, 95% CI: -0.00395 to 0.0465) and more expensive (incremental cost of £218 per patient (95% CI: 55.87 to 492.87) resulting in an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of approximately £62,500. Sensitivity analysis using multiple imputation for missing data resulted in acupuncture appearing less effective and more costly than usual care, so usual care is dominant. Subgroup analysis selecting the most severe cases of IBS (Symptom Severity Score of over 300) suggested that acupuncture may be a cost-effective treatment option for this group, with a cost-per-QALY of £6,500.
Acupuncture as an adjunct to usual care is not a cost-effective option for the whole IBS population; however it may be cost-effective for those with more severe irritable bowel syndrome.
Trial registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN08827905
PMCID: PMC3579701  PMID: 23095351
Acupuncture; Irritable bowel syndrome; Economic evaluation; Health technology assessment; Quality of life
17.  Homeopathy for mental fatigue: lessons from a randomized, triple blind, placebo-controlled cross-over clinical trial 
Difficulty in controlling attention can lead to mental fatigue in the healthy population. We identified one trial reporting a benefit in patients’ attention using a homeopathic formula preparation. One component of the preparation was potassium phosphate, widely available off the shelf as Kali phos 6x for cognitive problems. The aim of this exploratory trial was to assess the effectiveness of Kali phos 6x for attention problems associated with mental fatigue.
We recruited student and staff volunteers (University of York) with self-reported mental fatigue, excluding any using homeopathy or prescribed stimulants, or with a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome. In a triple blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled clinical trial, 86 volunteers were randomized to receive Kali phos 6x or identical placebo 10 minutes before taking a psychological test of attention (Stroop Colour-Word Test). One week later they were crossed over and took the other preparation before repeating the test.
We found no evidence of a treatment effect in a comparison of Kali phos 6x with placebo (Kali phos minus placebo = −1.1 (95% CI −3.0 to 0.9, P = 0.3) Stroop score units, Cohen effect size = −0.17) even when allowing for a weak period effect with accuracy scores in the second period being higher than those in the first (P = 0.05). We observed a ceiling effect in the Stroop test which undermined our ability to interpret this result.
Kali phos 6x was not found to be effective in reducing mental fatigue. A ceiling effect in our primary outcome measure meant that we could not rule out a type II error. Thorough piloting of an adequate outcome measure could have led to an unequivocal result.
Current Controlled Trials
PMCID: PMC3517425  PMID: 23025450
Crossover study design; Mental fatigue; Kali phos 6x; Stroop test
18.  Oscillatory neuronal dynamics associated with manual acupuncture: a magnetoencephalography study using beamforming analysis 
Magnetoencephalography (MEG) enables non-invasive recording of neuronal activity, with reconstruction methods providing estimates of underlying brain source locations and oscillatory dynamics from externally recorded neuromagnetic fields. The aim of our study was to use MEG to determine the effect of manual acupuncture on neuronal oscillatory dynamics. A major problem in MEG investigations of manual acupuncture is the absence of onset times for each needle manipulation. Given that beamforming (spatial filtering) analysis is not dependent upon stimulus-driven responses being phase-locked to stimulus onset, we postulated that beamforming could reveal source locations and induced changes in neuronal activity during manual acupuncture. In a beamformer analysis, a two-minute period of manual acupuncture needle manipulation delivered to the ipsilateral right LI-4 (Hegu) acupoint was contrasted with a two-minute baseline period. We considered oscillatory power changes in the theta (4–8 Hz), alpha (8–13 Hz), beta (13–30 Hz), and gamma (30–100 Hz) frequency bands. We found significant decreases in beta band power in the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex and superior frontal gyrus (SFG). In the ipsilateral cerebral hemisphere, we found significant power decreases in beta and gamma frequency bands in only the SFG. No significant power modulations were found in theta and alpha bands. Our results indicate that beamforming is a useful analytical tool to reconstruct underlying neuronal activity associated with manual acupuncture. Our main finding was of beta power decreases in primary somatosensory cortex and SFG, which opens up a line of future investigation regarding whether this contributes toward an underlying mechanism of acupuncture.
PMCID: PMC3522113  PMID: 23248594
acupuncture; magnetoencephalography; beamforming; oscillations; somatosensory cortex
19.  GP Participation and Recruitment of Patients to RCTs: Lessons from Trials of Acupuncture and Exercise for Low Back Pain in Primary Care 
The objective of this study was to identify factors associated with general practitioner (GP) participation and the recruitment of people to trials in primary care, based on data from two trials of interventions for treating chronic low back pain. The study was based on data from two randomized controlled trials (RCTs), one involving exercise, the other acupuncture, and subsequent reporting by GPs in a postal questionnaire. The exercise trial achieved 62% recruitment whereas the acupuncture trial achieved 100% recruitment. In both trials GPs most efficient at referring patients were those with a special interest in the subject area, and those known personally to the research team. A follow-up GP questionnaire found that both trials had maintained a high profile with over 80% of GPs, and successful recruitment strategies included project reminder letters, updates and personal contacts. Achieving target recruitment of patients in the acupuncture trial was aided by the deliberate application of lessons learned in the exercise trial, in particular the need to keep initial study entry criteria broad, with subsequent filtering undertaken by the study researcher. In addition the use of effective methods of maintaining the trial profile, the involvement of a GP advisor, the decision to maximize the recruitment of GPs early in the trial and the direct recruitment of interested individual GPs. The successful recruitment of patients to trials in primary care requires careful planning and continuous monitoring from the outset. Prior to starting recruitment, it is useful to identify previous trials in a similar environment in order to learn from their experience and optimize patient recruitment.
PMCID: PMC3137129  PMID: 18955352
20.  Paradoxes in Acupuncture Research: Strategies for Moving Forward 
In November 2007, the Society for Acupuncture Research (SAR) held an international symposium to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1997 NIH Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture. The symposium presentations revealed the considerable maturation of the field of acupuncture research, yet two provocative paradoxes emerged. First, a number of well-designed clinical trials have reported that true acupuncture is superior to usual care, but does not significantly outperform sham acupuncture, findings apparently at odds with traditional theories regarding acupuncture point specificity. Second, although many studies using animal and human experimental models have reported physiological effects that vary as a function of needling parameters (e.g., mode of stimulation) the extent to which these parameters influence therapeutic outcomes in clinical trials is unclear. This White Paper, collaboratively written by the SAR Board of Directors, identifies gaps in knowledge underlying the paradoxes and proposes strategies for their resolution through translational research. We recommend that acupuncture treatments should be studied (1) “top down” as multi-component “whole-system” interventions and (2) “bottom up” as mechanistic studies that focus on understanding how individual treatment components interact and translate into clinical and physiological outcomes. Such a strategy, incorporating considerations of efficacy, effectiveness and qualitative measures, will strengthen the evidence base for such complex interventions as acupuncture.
PMCID: PMC2957136  PMID: 20976074
21.  Individual patient data meta-analysis of acupuncture for chronic pain: protocol of the Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration 
Trials  2010;11:90.
The purpose of clinical trials of acupuncture is to help clinicians and patients make decisions about treatment. Yet this is not straightforward: some trials report acupuncture to be superior to sham (placebo) acupuncture while others show evidence that acupuncture is superior to usual care but not sham, and still others conclude that acupuncture is no better than usual care. Meta-analyses of these trials tend to come to somewhat indeterminate conclusions. This appears to be because, until recently, acupuncture research was dominated by small trials of questionable quality. The Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration, a group of trialists, statisticians and other researchers, was established to synthesize patient-level data from several recently published large, high-quality trials.
There are three distinct phases to the Acupuncture Trialists Collaboration: a systematic review to identify eligible studies; collation and harmonization of raw data; statistical analysis. To be eligible, trials must have unambiguous allocation concealment. Eligible pain conditions are osteoarthritis; chronic headache (tension or migraine headache); shoulder pain; and non-specific back or neck pain. Once received, patient-level data will undergo quality checks and the results of prior publications will be replicated. The primary analysis will be to determine the effect size of acupuncture. Each trial will be evaluated by analysis of covariance with the principal endpoint as the dependent variable and, as covariates, the baseline score for the principal endpoint and the variables used to stratify randomization. The effect size for acupuncture from each trial - that is, the coefficient and standard error from the analysis of covariance - will then be entered into a meta-analysis. We will compute effect sizes separately for comparisons of acupuncture with sham acupuncture, and acupuncture with no acupuncture control for each pain condition. Other analyses will investigate the impact of different sham techniques, styles of acupuncture or frequency and duration of treatment sessions.
Individual patient data meta-analysis of high-quality trials will provide the most reliable basis for treatment decisions about acupuncture. Above all, however, we hope that our approach can serve as a model for future studies in acupuncture and other complementary therapies.
PMCID: PMC2955653  PMID: 20920180
22.  Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome: A protocol for a pragmatic randomised controlled trial 
BMC Gastroenterology  2010;10:63.
There is insufficient evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) for conclusions to be drawn. Given the current interest in acupuncture by patients, it is in the public interest to establish more rigorous evidence. Building on the positive findings from a pilot study, in this paper we present the protocol for a fully-powered trial designed to establish whether or not acupuncture is effective and cost-effective.
In this pragmatic randomised controlled trial we will randomise patients recruited directly from GP databases to either 10 sessions of acupuncture plus usual GP care or to usual GP care alone. The primary clinical outcome will be the IBS Symptom Severity Score (SSS) (maximum score 500) at three months, and at 12 month assessing whether there is an overall benefit. We estimate the sample size required to detect a minimum clinical difference at 90% power and 5% significance to be 188 patients. To allow for loss to follow up we will recruit 220 patients drawn from an estimated primary care population of 140 000. Analysis will be by intention-to-treat, and multiple imputation is to be used for missing data.
In a nested qualitative study using in-depth interviews, we will explore how patients, acupuncturists, and GPs explain and subsequently understand acupuncture to work. We will use purposive sampling to identify patients and flexible topic guides for the interviews. The data analysis will lead to a thematic description of how patients and practitioners explain how acupuncture works, and whether or not the explanations influence treatment outcome and/or referrals.
We will undertake a cost-effectiveness analysis at 12 months by comparing resource use in the two groups with any treatment benefit. We will use the EQ-5D to measure health-related quality of life and convert into quality adjusted life years (QALYs). We will generate cost effectiveness acceptability curves (CEACs) exploring the probability that acupuncture will produce an acceptable cost per QALY at different cost-effectiveness thresholds.
The trial has received NHS ethics approval and recruited 233 patients between November 2008 and June 2009. Results are expected in 2011.
Trial Registration
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN08827905
PMCID: PMC2909152  PMID: 20565790
23.  Revised STandards for Reporting Interventions in Clinical Trials of Acupuncture (STRICTA): Extending the CONSORT Statement 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(6):e1000261.
Hugh MacPherson and colleagues present an updated reporting guideline called STRICTA, which stands for Revised STandards for Reporting Interventions in Clinical Trials of Acupuncture.
PMCID: PMC2882429  PMID: 20543992
24.  Revised STandards for Reporting Interventions in Clinical Trials of Acupuncture (STRICTA): extending the CONSORT statement 
Acupuncture in Medicine  2010;28(2):83-93.
The STandards for Reporting Interventions in Clinical Trials of Acupuncture (STRICTA) were published in five journals in 2001 and 2002. These guidelines, in the form of a checklist and explanations for use by authors and journal editors, were designed to improve reporting of acupuncture trials, particularly the interventions, thereby facilitating their interpretation and replication. Subsequent reviews of the application and impact of STRICTA have highlighted the value of STRICTA as well as scope for improvements and revision.
To manage the revision process a collaboration between the STRICTA Group, the CONSORT Group and the Chinese Cochrane Centre was developed in 2008. An expert panel with 47 participants was convened that provided electronic feedback on a revised draft of the checklist. At a subsequent face-to-face meeting in Freiburg, a group of 21 participants further revised the STRICTA checklist and planned dissemination.
The new STRICTA checklist, which is an official extension of CONSORT, includes 6 items and 17 subitems. These set out reporting guidelines for the acupuncture rationale, the details of needling, the treatment regimen, other components of treatment, the practitioner background and the control or comparator interventions. In addition, and as part of this revision process, the explanations for each item have been elaborated, and examples of good reporting for each item are provided. In addition, the word ‘controlled’ in STRICTA is replaced by ‘clinical’, to indicate that STRICTA is applicable to a broad range of clinical evaluation designs, including uncontrolled outcome studies and case reports. It is intended that the revised STRICTA checklist, in conjunction with both the main CONSORT statement and extension for non-pharmacological treatment, will raise the quality of reporting of clinical trials of acupuncture.
PMCID: PMC3002761  PMID: 20615861
25.  Acupuncture for pain and osteoarthritis of the knee: a pilot study for an open parallel-arm randomised controlled trial 
There is some evidence that acupuncture for pain and osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is more than a placebo, and short term clinical benefits have been observed when acupuncture is compared to usual care. However there is insufficient evidence on whether clinical benefits of acupuncture are sustained over the longer term. In this study our key objectives are to inform the design parameters for a fully powered pragmatic randomised controlled trial. These objectives include establishing potential recruitment rates, appropriate validated outcome measures, attendance levels for acupuncture treatment, loss to follow up and the sample size for a full scale trial.
Potential participants aged over 50 with pain and osteoarthritis of the knee were identified from a GP database. Eligible patients were randomised to either 'acupuncture plus usual care' and 'usual care' alone, with allocation appropriately concealed. Acupuncture consisted of up to 10 sessions usually weekly. Outcome measures included Western Ontario and McMaster Universities (WOMAC) index with the sample size for a full scale trial determined from the variance.
From the GP database of 15,927 patients, 335 potential trial participants were identified and invited to participate. After screening responses, 78 (23%) were identified as eligible and 30 patients who responded most promptly were randomised to 'acupuncture plus usual care' (15 patients) and 'usual care' alone (15 patients). Attendance for acupuncture appointments was high at 90% of the maximum. Although the trial was not powered to detect significant changes in outcome, the WOMAC pain index showed a statistically significant reduction at 3 months in the acupuncture group compared to usual care. This was not sustained at 12 months. The sample size for a fully powered two-arm trial was estimated to be 350.
This pilot study provided the evidence that a fully powered study to explore the longer term impact of acupuncture would be worthwhile, and relevant design features for such a trial were determined.
Trial registration number
PMCID: PMC2775018  PMID: 19852841

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