Acupuncture for chronic pain in adults with sickle cell disease: a mixed-methods pilot study

Acupunct Med. 2021 Dec;39(6):612-618. doi: 10.1177/09645284211017303. Epub 2021 Jun 3.


Objective: Chronic pain is a common symptom experienced among patients with sickle cell disease (SCD). Our aims were to assess the feasibility and acceptability of performing acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain in adults with SCD.

Methods: This was a single-arm, prospective pilot study of six adults with SCD. Participants reported ⩾ 3 months of chronic pain and were > 18 years of age. Per protocol, acupuncture was to be administered twice per week for 5 weeks, for 30 min per session. All treatments were performed in the acupuncture treatment laboratory at the University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing. Pain intensity, pain interference, and other symptoms were measured at baseline and after the intervention. Participants completed a semi-structured interview and a protocol acceptability questionnaire after the acupuncture intervention.

Results: Six participants (mean age 52.5 years, six Black) were enrolled. Although the study was suspended due to COVID-19 and not all participants completed the 10-session protocol, completion rates were high with no missed appointments. One participant did not complete the study due to hospitalization unrelated to acupuncture. No adverse events were reported. At completion of the intervention at 4-5 weeks post-baseline, all participants had reduced pain intensity and pain interference. The mean acceptability score on the protocol acceptability questionnaire was 82%.

Conclusion: It was feasible and acceptable to implement acupuncture in adults with SCD. This study can be used to guide a larger randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effect of acupuncture on reducing chronic pain in adults with SCD.Trial registration number: NCT04156399 (

Keywords: acupuncture; pain; sickle cell disease.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods*
  • Acupuncture Therapy / psychology
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / complications
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / psychology*
  • Chronic Pain / congenital
  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Pain Management / psychology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data