Background: In today's Western societies a high percentage of people experience increased or chronic stress. Acupuncture could serve as treatment for persons affected adversely by the increased stress.
Methods: The AkuRest study was a two-centre randomized controlled pilot study in adult persons with increased stress levels. Participants were randomly allocated to one of three groups: verum acupuncture treatment, sham acupuncture, and a waiting control group. The feasibility of the study was assessed. In addition, effects on stress level (measured by the Perceived Stress Questionnaire (PSQ-20)) and other variables were assessed at the end of treatment and a 3-month follow-up.
Results: Altogether, N = 70 persons were included in the study. At the end of the treatment 15.7% were lost to follow-up. The adherence to the protocol was good: 82.9% of the participants completed 100% of their treatment. The stress level of the participants was high at baseline (mean PSQ-20 score 75.5, SD = 8.2). Effect sizes (ES) at T1 showed that verum and sham acupuncture were superior to the waiting condition in reducing stress (ES (verum) = -1.39, 95%-CI = [-2.11; -0.67]: ES (sham) = -1.12, CI = [-1.78;-0.44]). At follow-up, effect sizes were in favour of the verum group (as compared to sham). However, confidence intervals and t-tests showed that these differences were not significant.
Conclusion: The pilot study demonstrated the feasibility of the acupuncture RCT in persons with increased stress levels. Estimated parameters can be used to design a larger RCT to prove the-here indicated-efficacy of verum acupuncture to decrease stress.
Trial registration number: ISRCTN15259166.