Acupuncture in persons with an increased stress level-Results from a randomized-controlled pilot trial

PLoS One. 2020 Jul 23;15(7):e0236004. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236004. eCollection 2020.


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.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture*
  • Adult
  • Cortisone / urine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / urine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Cortisone
  • Hydrocortisone

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN15259166

Grant support

Funding statement: Parts of the study were supported by AZKIM (academic centre for complementary and integrative medicine, which was funded by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Other parts of the study were internally funded by the Department of General Internal Medicine. There was no additional external funding received for this study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.