Background Pain is one of the principal symptoms for which the general public seeks medical attention, and it is frequently treated by GPs. Although acupuncture is mainly practised in the private field, it enjoys growing acceptance in the public system too, which helps bring down the high cost of its use. The aim of the present study is to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture and related techniques in treating non-oncological pain during nine years of activity at the Pain Treatment Unit (PTU) within the Andalusian Public Health System (Spain) in the field of primary healthcare.
Methods Retrospective review of 5981 electronically stored case histories of patients who sought treatment for non-oncological pain and were seen at the PTU between June 1997 and July 2006. We excluded from this review those patients who had on any occasion been recruited for clinical trials at the PTU. The primary result measure applied was the success rate, defined as an improvement of least 50% on the Global Assessment Index, which is made up of five variables: pain intensity, as measured on a numerical scale of 0–10, pain frequency, consumption of analgesics, level of incapacity and sleep disorders caused by pain (the latter four variables were measured on a 5-point Likert scale of 0–4).
Results The majority (84.5%) of the patients treated were women, with a mean age of 58.8 years (range 8–93), and they attended the healthcare clinic because of pain present for over three months (88.8%) and mainly affecting the lower back (58.8%). In the 5690 patients who completed treatment, the mean success rate was 79.7%, with highest rates (93%) being achieved in patients with cephalalgia. The mean reduction in pain intensity was 5.5 (SD 2.5) points amounting to 67% fall from the baseline. There was a reduction of €7.1 in the mean weekly expenditure on analgesics per patient. From the regression model, we conclude that the patients who suffered acute or sub-acute pain presented higher success rates than did those with chronic pain (OR, 1.94; 95% CI, 1.53–2.48).
Conclusions Acupuncture seems to be effective in treating musculoskeletal pain, and presents no severe adverse events. With acupuncture treatment, the consumption of analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs is considerably reduced.
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