Acupuncture has been suggested as helpful in reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), but no controlled study has yet been published. The hypothesis of this randomised, double-blind, sham-controlled trial, therefore, was that traditional Chinese acupuncture improves subjective as well as objective signs in this condition. Patients were included when suffering from clinically and scintigraphically confirmed acute RSD of the upper or lower limb, with a history between one and four months. They were randomly assigned to either traditional acupuncture (group A) or sham acupuncture (group S). Treatments were applied five times a week for three weeks, each session lasting for 30 minutes. Both groups received identical standard treatments in addition. The primary outcome variable had been pre-defined to be pain, as measured by visual analogue scale assessed before each treatment. Subjective success was also recorded by the patients on a rating scale. Due to force of circumstances, only 14 patients were entered into the study, therefore no test statistics could be performed and the data was evaluated descriptively. At baseline, pain was almost identical in both groups. During the course of the study, patients in group A demonstrated a more pronounced reduction of pain: 28.6% ± 1.9 vs 17.9% ± 2.4 (Mean ± SEM). Similarly, subjective success was rated to favour traditional acupuncture. It is concluded that acupuncture may be useful in the management of pain in patients with acute RSD, but that the present results are not conclusive. Larger, rigorous studies are required to answer the question.
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