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Identifying patients with chronic pain who respond to acupuncture: results from an individual patient data meta-analysis


Foster, Nadine E; Vertosick, Emily A; Lewith, George; Linde, Klaus; MacPherson, Hugh; Sherman, Karen J; Witt, Claudia M; Vickers, Andrew J (2020). Identifying patients with chronic pain who respond to acupuncture: results from an individual patient data meta-analysis. Acupuncture In Medicine:Epub ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: In a recent individual patient data meta-analysis, acupuncture was found to be superior to sham and non-sham controls in patients with chronic pain. It has been suggested that a subgroup of patients has an exceptional response to acupuncture. We hypothesized the presence of exceptional acupuncture responders would lead to a different distribution of pain scores in acupuncture versus control groups, with the former being skewed to the right.
Methods: This individual patient data meta-analysis included 39 high-quality randomized trials of acupuncture for chronic headache, migraine, osteoarthritis, low back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain published before December 2015 (n = 20,827). In all, 25 involved sham acupuncture controls (n = 7097) and 25 non-acupuncture controls (n = 16,041). We analyzed the distribution of change scores and calculated the difference in the skewness statistic—which assesses asymmetry in the data distribution—between acupuncture and either sham or non-acupuncture control groups. We then entered the difference in skewness along with standard error into a meta-analysis.
Findings: Control groups were more right-skewed than acupuncture groups, although this difference was very small. The difference in skew was 0.124 for non-acupuncture-controlled trials (p = 0.047) and 0.141 for sham-controlled trials (p = 0.029). In a pre-specified sensitivity analysis excluding three trials with outlying results known a priori, the difference in skew between acupuncture and sham was no longer statistically significant (p = 0.2).
Conclusion: We did not find evidence to support the notion that there are exceptional acupuncture responders. The challenge remains to identify features of chronic pain patients that can be used to distinguish those that have a good response to acupuncture treatment.

Abstract

Background: In a recent individual patient data meta-analysis, acupuncture was found to be superior to sham and non-sham controls in patients with chronic pain. It has been suggested that a subgroup of patients has an exceptional response to acupuncture. We hypothesized the presence of exceptional acupuncture responders would lead to a different distribution of pain scores in acupuncture versus control groups, with the former being skewed to the right.
Methods: This individual patient data meta-analysis included 39 high-quality randomized trials of acupuncture for chronic headache, migraine, osteoarthritis, low back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain published before December 2015 (n = 20,827). In all, 25 involved sham acupuncture controls (n = 7097) and 25 non-acupuncture controls (n = 16,041). We analyzed the distribution of change scores and calculated the difference in the skewness statistic—which assesses asymmetry in the data distribution—between acupuncture and either sham or non-acupuncture control groups. We then entered the difference in skewness along with standard error into a meta-analysis.
Findings: Control groups were more right-skewed than acupuncture groups, although this difference was very small. The difference in skew was 0.124 for non-acupuncture-controlled trials (p = 0.047) and 0.141 for sham-controlled trials (p = 0.029). In a pre-specified sensitivity analysis excluding three trials with outlying results known a priori, the difference in skew between acupuncture and sham was no longer statistically significant (p = 0.2).
Conclusion: We did not find evidence to support the notion that there are exceptional acupuncture responders. The challenge remains to identify features of chronic pain patients that can be used to distinguish those that have a good response to acupuncture treatment.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > University Hospital Zurich > Institute of Complementary Medicine
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Scopus Subject Areas:Health Sciences > Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Health Sciences > Neurology (clinical)
Uncontrolled Keywords:acupuncture, pain research, individual patient data meta-analysis, chronic pain, exceptional responder
Language:English
Date:22 June 2020
Deposited On:03 Feb 2021 18:43
Last Modified:04 Feb 2021 21:01
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN:0964-5284
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/0964528420920303
PubMed ID:32571096

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