Acupuncture for chronic pain within the research program of 10 German Health Insurance Funds--basic results from an observational study

Complement Ther Med. 2007 Dec;15(4):238-46. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2006.09.005. Epub 2006 Oct 30.


Objectives: To investigate which patients receive acupuncture in the framework of statutory health insurance in Germany, how treatment was carried out, and what results were achieved.

Design: Basic documentation (carried out by physician) within a prospective observational study.

Setting: 454,920 patients with at least one of the three chronic pain conditions including headache, low back pain and osteoarthritis treated by 8727 medical acupuncturists (panel doctors) within the scope of a reimbursement program.

Results: Fifty-three percent of the patients were treated by general practitioners, 19% by orthopaedists and 9% by internists. Eighty percent of patients were female, mean age was 53.6 (S.D.=15.7) years. Primary indication for acupuncture was low back pain (45%), headache (36%), and osteoarthritis (12%). Median time since the initial diagnosis was 3 years. 8.4 (S.D.=3.0) acupuncture sessions (body acupuncture) were administered on average. In 28% a concomitant treatment was reported. Effectiveness of acupuncture was rated by physicians in 22% of the patients as marked, in 54% as moderate, in 16% as minimal and in 4% as poor (unchanged). In 8% of the patients mild adverse reactions were reported, severe side effects occurred in 13 patients (0.003%). Orthopaedists rated the effectiveness of acupuncture lower, showing shortest time for face-to-face contact with the patient. More acupuncture training did not correspond to better therapeutic effect assessed by physicians.

Conclusions: Acupuncture proved a highly demanded treatment option for chronic pain conditions within the German research program. Results indicate that acupuncture provided by qualified therapists is safe, and patients benefited from the treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / economics*
  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Headache / economics*
  • Headache / therapy
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / economics*
  • Low Back Pain / economics*
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoarthritis / economics*
  • Osteoarthritis / therapy
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pain Measurement
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms