Group Acupuncture May Be Beneficial for Painful Diabetic Neuropathy

Group acupuncture may alleviate pain and improve quality of life in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy.

Group acupuncture may alleviate pain and improve quality of life in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy, according to a study published in Pain Medicine.

In this randomized controlled study conducted to examine the feasibility, acceptability, and effectiveness of group acupuncture for the treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy, participants were randomly assigned to receive usual care only (n=14), usual care plus weekly group acupuncture (n=14), or usual care plus twice-a-week group acupuncture (n=12). Participants were asked to record their pain intensity — assessed with a numeric rating scale — daily. Health-related quality of life and associated symptoms were assessed at baseline, and weeks 6, 12, and 18. The acupuncture treatment plan was based on the theory and practice of traditional Chinese medicine, and patients sat in recliners while receiving treatment.

A total of 40 patients were included in this study (average age, 59; 50% Latino; 93% with an annual household income <$35,000). A total of 75% of the patients completed at ≥1 follow-up survey (usual care only, 71%; once-a-week acupuncture, 86%; twice-a-week acupuncture, 75%).

The average number of acupuncture treatments in the once- and twice-a-week groups were 7.8 and 12.8, respectively. In both acupuncture groups, 82% of participants indicated they would recommend acupuncture for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy, and 77% indicated that acupuncture enabled them to better cope with their neuropathy.

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After combining both acupuncture cohorts into 1 group, patients who received acupuncture plus usual care vs usual care only indicated lower average weekly pain, worse pain, and least pain (P <.001 for all), but these benefits were no longer present at week 18. Quality of life scores and physical functioning also significantly improved during the 12 week-long acupuncture treatment compared with usual care alone, and these variables remained elevated through 18 weeks.

Study limitations include the lack of a sham acupuncture group, potential bias related to lack of blinding of investigators, and the fact that the acupuncture treatment may not be generalizable to other settings.

 “[F]indings from this study suggest beneficial effects of acupuncture for neuropathic pain and quality of life and a potential worsening of symptoms among patients receiving usual care,” noted the study authors.

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Chao MT, Schillinger D, Nguyen U, et al. A randomized clinical trial of group acupuncture for painful diabetic neuropathy among diverse safety net patients [published online May 25, 2019). Pain Med. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnz117