Objective: To compare true and sham acupuncture in their abilities to relieve arm pain and improve arm function in individuals with arm pain due to repetitive use.
Methods: Participants with persistent arm pain (N=123) were randomly assigned to true or sham acupuncture groups and received 8 treatments over 4 weeks. The primary outcome was intensity of pain (10-point scale) and secondary outcomes were arm symptoms, arm function, and grip strength. Outcomes were measured during treatment (at 2 and 4 wk) and 1 month after treatment ended.
Results: Arm pain scores improved in both groups during the treatment period, but improvements were significantly greater in the sham group than in the true acupuncture group. This difference disappeared by 1 month after treatment ended. The true acupuncture group experienced more side effects, predominantly mild pain at time of treatments.
Discussion: Sham acupuncture reduced arm pain more than true acupuncture during treatment, but the difference did not persist after 1 month. Mild side effects from true acupuncture may have blunted any positive treatment effects. Overall, this study did not find evidence to support the effectiveness of true acupuncture in treatment of persistent arm pain due to repetitive use.