Is acupuncture effective in treating chronic pain after spinal cord injury?

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2001 Nov;82(11):1578-86. doi: 10.1053/apmr.2001.26624.


Objectives: To evaluate the efficacy of acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain and secondary symptoms after spinal cord injury (SCI) and to identify disease-specific variables associated with response to treatment.

Design: A within-subjects design consisting of a 7(1/2)-week no-acupuncture baseline period followed by a 7(1/2)-week treatment period and a follow-up assessment 3 months posttreatment.

Setting: Medical rehabilitation research center.

Participants: Twenty-two people with SCI who experienced moderate to severe pain of at least 6 months' duration.

Intervention: A course of 15 acupuncture treatments was administered over a 7(1/2)-week period.

Main outcome measures: Numeric Rating Scale of pain intensity; ratings of interference with activity, individualized symptom rating, Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale; Speilberger State Trait Anxiety Inventory, and General Well-Being Schedule.

Results: Ten patients (46%) showed improvement in pain intensity and pain sequelae after treatment. However, 6 patients (27%) reported an increase in pain that was still present 3 months after treatment.

Conclusions: About 50% of the study sample reported substantial pain relief after acupuncture treatment, suggesting that acupuncture may provide pain relief for at least a subgroup of individuals with SCI. Future research is needed to determine what part of this effect is because of acupuncture versus nonspecific effects such as placebo effects and regression to the mean.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / psychology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Treatment Outcome