Background: Pain management has become a controversial topic. Opioids, which once held the promise of improving quality of life for millions of Americans, have resulted in an epidemic of addiction. As a result, national organizations are investigating alternative methods to treat pain, including acupuncture. The purpose of this review is to investigate the effect of acupuncture on the general symptom of pain, within the context of the controlled environment of inpatient medicine.
Methods: An exhaustive search of MEDLINE-Ovid, CINAHL, and Web of Science was conducted using the search terms acupuncture, inpatient, and pain. Included studies measured pain scores before and after acupuncture treatments in U.S. inpatient medical settings. Additional inclusion criteria were study design (interventional studies, and cohort studies), English language, and publication type (peer-reviewed journals). Studies were excluded if they compared acupuncture treatment to sham, due to controversy surrounding sham. Studies were also excluded if they did not analyze effects of acupuncture separate from other alternative health modalities. Quality of publications were assessed using GRADE criteria.
Results: Seven studies were included in this systematic review, meeting the inclusion and exclusion criteria: two pre-post studies, four cohort studies, and one randomized control trial (RCT). All included studies showed acupuncture significantly reduced immediate pain in an inpatient setting, regardless of the underlying cause of pain. However, overall quality of evidence was low as a result of lack of control groups, lack of blinding, loss to follow up, reporting bias, and small sample size.
Conclusion: Every study that met criteria for this review showed data promising for acupuncture’s capacity to decrease pain in an inpatient setting. However, study design flaws limited confidence in the data. Ultimately, further research is needed.
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