Acupuncture for Phantom Limb Pain

A recent research review has been published in the journal, Medical Acupuncture, comparing 16 studies of acupuncture done to help patients with pain and functional limitation after amputation. This type of study is called a meta-analysis, in which many different studies are grouped together to try to make some meaningful interpretation of their collected results.

One problem with a meta-analysis is that there are differences between the individual studies that may detract from the strength of the evidence. In this case, enough evidence was found to support the idea that acupuncture is helpful in several ways in the treatment of phantom pain and related problems.

Quoted from the study—Results: Level C evidence showed acupuncture treatment reduced phantom-limb pain and sensation (14 studies), improved functional capacity or mobility (5 studies), and reduced levels of analgesic (pain medicine) use (3 studies).

Conclusions: Acupuncture therapy has been shown to have a positive effect on the symptoms of phantom-limb syndrome. However, further investigations of superior quality are needed to support these findings and de- termine the most effective method of acupuncture for this purpose.

The previous paragraph points to a problem that is well known in the field of acupuncture research. That problem is that there are significant challenges to designing acupuncture research that is meaningful. Two of the reasons are that these studies: 1) rarely accurately reflect the way that acupuncture is done in clinical practice, and 2) don’t always use appropriate controls such as ‘placebo’ acupuncture. Good controls are considered essential to producing meaningful research data. There are many other problems inherent in doing good research on acupuncture, but these are two of the main ones.

Despite the fact that this publication has pointed out the well-known shortcomings of acupuncture research, we are happy to see this evidence supporting the usefulness of acupuncture for those people suffering the terrible effects of phantom limb syndrome.