A randomised trial in the US has shown that for both individual and group sessions given in primary care settings, acupuncture helps pain and improves physical function in patients with chronic musculoskeletal conditions. Researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine enrolled 779 adults, mean age 55, attending six inner city primary care centres in the New York Bronx district for neck, back or osteoarthritis pain. Participants received weekly individualised acupuncture on either a group or one-to-one basis, for 12 weeks, in addition to usual care.
At the outset, 60% of participants reported poor to fair health, whilst 37% were unable to work due to disability. In the Bronx, nearly one third of the population lives below the poverty line.
After 12 weeks, 37% of patients in the individual treatment arm, and 30% of those in the group treatment arm, had a greater than 30% improvement in pain interference. Pain severity showed clinically meaningful improvements in over 30% of patients, and global physical health improved in approximately 60% of patients. Opiate use declined in the individual arm, but not in the group arm.
The research team concluded that their results demonstrate that individual and group acupuncture can be offered safely in the community health centre setting, that acceptability to patients and clinicians is very high, and that a substantial proportion of patients with chronic pain will have clinically significant improvement in both pain and overall physical health. Acupuncture therapy should be offered as part of pain care to underserved populations in the primary care setting.
(Individual vs. Group Delivery of Acupuncture Therapy for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain in Urban Primary Care – a Randomized Trial. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 19 February 2020.)