Objectives: Neuropathy and its associated pain pose great therapeutic challenges. While there has been a recent surge in acupuncture use and research, little remains known about its effects on nerve function. This review aims to assess the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of neuropathy of various etiologies.
Methods: The Medline, AMED, Cochrane, Scopus, CINAHL, and clintrials.gov databases were systematically searched from inception to July 2015. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) assessing acupuncture's efficacy for poly- and mononeuropathy were reviewed. Parallel and crossover RCTs focused on acupuncture's efficacy were reviewed and screened for eligibility. The Scale for Assessing Scientific Quality of Investigations in Complementary and Alternative Medicine was used to assess RCT quality. RCTs with score of >9 and active control treatments such as sham acupuncture or medical therapy were included.
Results: Fifteen studies were included: 13 original RCTs, a long-term follow-up, and a re-analysis of a prior RCT. The selected RCTs studied acupuncture for neuropathy caused by diabetes, Bell's palsy, carpal tunnel syndrome, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and idiopathic conditions. Acupuncture regimens, control conditions, and outcome measures differed among studies, and various methodological issues were identified. Still, the majority of RCTs showed benefit for acupuncture over control in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, Bell's palsy, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Acupuncture is probably effective in the treatment of HIV-related neuropathy, and there is insufficient evidence for its benefits in idiopathic neuropathy. Acupuncture appears to improve nerve conduction study parameters in both sensory and motor nerves. Meta-analyses were conducted on all diabetic neuropathy and Bell's palsy individual subject data (six RCTs; a total of 680 subjects) using a summary estimate random effects model, which showed combined odds ratio of 4.23 (95% confidence interval 2.3-7.8; p < 0.001) favoring acupuncture over control for neuropathic symptoms.
Conclusions: Acupuncture is beneficial in some peripheral neuropathies, but more rigorously designed studies using sham-acupuncture control are needed to characterize its effect and optimal use better.
Keywords: acupuncture; integrative medicine; neuropathic pain; neuropathy.