Article Text

other Versions

Acupuncture in the emergency department: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials
  1. Kwan Leung Chia1,
  2. Rex Pui Kin Lam2,
  3. Chung Kwun Lam3,
  4. Sik Hon Tsui4
  1. 1St Vincent’s Clinical School, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2Emergency Medicine Unit, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China
  3. 3Hong Kong Association for Integration of Chinese-Western Medicine, Hong Kong SAR, China
  4. 4Department of Accident and Emergency, Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong SAR, China
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kwan Leung Chia, St Vincent’s Clinical School, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia; kwanleung.chia{at}


Introduction A comprehensive review of both English and Chinese language literature to inform acupuncture practice in emergency department (ED) settings is lacking. Accordingly, we aimed to conduct a systematic review of English and Chinese randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture use in the ED.

Methods Four English databases (Embase, PubMed, AMED and CENTRAL) and two Chinese databases (CNKI and Wanfang) were systematically searched using the keywords ‘acupuncture’ and ‘emergency department’, followed by a bibliographic search of references. The data were extracted and assessed by two independent authors. RCTs were selected based on pre-defined criteria. Data were extracted and a risk of bias assessment was performed using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. The quality of evidence was rated using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) approach.

Results In total, 1461 articles were screened and six RCTs involving 651 patients were included. For various acute pain conditions, acupuncture was superior to sham acupuncture, more effective than intravenous morphine, comparable to conventional ED treatment, and superior to standard ED care alone when used on an adjuvant basis; however, the overall level of evidence was low. Studies that applied acupuncture in hypertension and cardiac arrest were deemed to be at high risk of bias, and the level of evidence for these outcomes was very low. No major adverse events were reported in the included studies.

Conclusion There is a lack of high-quality evidence to support the use of acupuncture in the ED. Multicentre RCTs with rigorous designs are warranted.

  • acupuncture
  • electroacupuncture

Statistics from


  • Contributors KLC and RPKL conceived the study and designed the study. SHT revised the study protocol and approved the project. KLC, RPKL, and SHT supervised data collection. KLC and RPKL recruited and managed the data, including quality control. KLC, RPKL, and CKL provided statistical advice on study design and analysed the data. KLC and RPKL drafted the manuscript. KLC, RPKL, CKL, and SHT contributed substantially to its revision. KLC takes overall responsibility for the paper. All authors read and approved the final version accepted for publication.

  • Competing interests The second author (PKL) has written a master thesis on a similar topic but using a different search strategy and different eligibility criteria. The other authors have nothing to declare.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.