This case report aims to describe the effects of craniosacral therapy and acupuncture in a patient with chronic migraine.
A 33-year-old man with chronic migraine was treated with 20 sessions of craniosacral therapy and acupuncture for 8 weeks. The number of migraine and headache days were monitored every month. The pain intensity of headache was measured on the visual analog scale (VAS). Korean Headache Impact Test-6 (HIT-6) and Migraine Specific Quality of Life (MSQoL) were also used.
The number of headache days per month reduced from 28 to 7 after 8 weeks of treatment and to 3 after 3 months of treatment. The pain intensity of headache based on VAS reduced from 7.5 to 3 after 8 weeks and further to < 1 after 3 months of treatment. Furthermore, the patient’s HIT-6 and MSQoL scores improved during the treatment period, which was maintained or further improved at the 3 month follow-up. No side effects were observed during or after the treatment.
The authors concluded that this case indicates that craniosacral therapy and acupuncture could be effective treatments for chronic
migraine. Further studies are required to validate the efficacy of craniosacral therapy for chronic migraine.
So, was the treatment period 8 weeks long or was it 3 months?
No, I am not discussing this article merely for making a fairly petty point. The reason I mention it is diffteren. I think it is time to discuss the relevance of case reports.
What is the purpose of a case report in medicine/healthcare. Here is the abstract of an article entitled “The Importance of Writing and Publishing Case Reports During Medical Training“:
Case reports are valuable resources of unusual information that may lead to new research and advances in clinical practice. Many journals and medical databases recognize the time-honored importance of case reports as a valuable source of new ideas and information in clinical medicine. There are published editorials available on the continued importance of open-access case reports in our modern information-flowing world. Writing case reports is an academic duty with an artistic element.
An article in the BMJ is, I think, more informative:
It is common practice in medicine that when we come across an interesting case with an unusual presentation or a surprise twist, we must tell the rest of the medical world. This is how we continue our lifelong learning and aid faster diagnosis and treatment for patients.
It usually falls to the junior to write up the case, so here are a few simple tips to get you started.
Begin by sitting down with your medical team to discuss the interesting aspects of the case and the learning points to highlight. Ideally, a registrar or middle grade will mentor you and give you guidance. Another junior doctor or medical student may also be keen to be involved. Allocate jobs to split the workload, set a deadline and work timeframe, and discuss the order in which the authors will be listed. All listed authors should contribute substantially, with the person doing most of the work put first and the guarantor (usually the most senior team member) at the end.
Gain permission and written consent to write up the case from the patient or parents, if your patient is a child, and keep a copy because you will need it later for submission to journals.
Gather all the information from the medical notes and the hospital’s electronic systems, including copies of blood results and imaging, as medical notes often disappear when the patient is discharged and are notoriously difficult to find again. Remember to anonymise the data according to your local hospital policy.
Write up the case emphasising the interesting points of the presentation, investigations leading to diagnosis, and management of the disease/pathology. Get input on the case from all members of the team, highlighting their involvement. Also include the prognosis of the patient, if known, as the reader will want to know the outcome.
Coming up with a title
Discuss a title with your supervisor and other members of the team, as this provides the focus for your article. The title should be concise and interesting but should also enable people to find it in medical literature search engines. Also think about how you will present your case study—for example, a poster presentation or scientific paper—and consider potential journals or conferences, as you may need to write in a particular style or format.
Research the disease/pathology that is the focus of your article and write a background paragraph or two, highlighting the relevance of your case report in relation to this. If you are struggling, seek the opinion of a specialist who may know of relevant articles or texts. Another good resource is your hospital library, where staff are often more than happy to help with literature searches.
How your case is different
Move on to explore how the case presented differently to the admitting team. Alternatively, if your report is focused on management, explore the difficulties the team came across and alternative options for treatment.
Finish by explaining why your case report adds to the medical literature and highlight any learning points.
Writing an abstract
The abstract should be no longer than 100-200 words and should highlight all your key points concisely. This can be harder than writing the full article and needs special care as it will be used to judge whether your case is accepted for presentation or publication.
Discuss with your supervisor or team about options for presenting or publishing your case report. At the very least, you should present your article locally within a departmental or team meeting or at a hospital grand round. Well done!
Both papers agree that case reports can be important. They may provide valuable resources of unusual information that may lead to new research and advances in clinical practice and should offer an interesting case with an unusual presentation or a surprise twist.
But perhaps it is more constructive to consider what a case report cannot do.
It cannot provide evidence about the effectiveness of a therapy. To publish something like:
- I had a patient with the common condition xy;
- I treated her with therapy yz;
- this was followed by patient feeling better;
is totally bonkers – even more so if the outcome was subjective and the therapy consisted of more than one intervention, as in the article above. We have no means of telling whether it was treatment A, or treatment B, or a placebo effect, or the regression towards the mean, or the natural history of the condition that caused the outcome. The authors might just as well just have reported:
WE RECENTLY TREATED A PATIENT WHO GOT BETTER
Sadly – and this is the reason why I spend some time on this subject – this sort of thing happens very often in the realm of SCAM.
Case reports are particularly valuable if they enable and stimulate others to do more research on a defined and under-researched issue (e.g. an adverse effect of a therapy). Case reports like the one above do not do this. They are a waste of space and tend to be abused as some sort of indication that the treatments in question might be valuable.
The increasing demand for fertility treatments has led to the rise of private clinics offering so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) treatments. Even King Charles has recently joined in with this situalion. One of the most frequently offered SCAM infertility treatment is acupuncture. However, there is no good evidence to support the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating infertility.
This study evaluated the scope of information provided by SCAM fertility clinics in the UK. A content analysis was conducted on 200 websites of SCAM fertility clinics in the UK that offer acupuncture as a treatment for infertility. Of the 48 clinics that met the eligibility criteria, the majority of the websites did not provide sufficient information on:
- the efficacy,
- the risks,
- the success rates
of acupuncture for infertility.
The authors concluded that this situation has the potential to infringe on patient autonomy, provide false hope and reduce the chances of pregnancy ever being achieved as fertility declines during the time course of ineffective acupuncture treatment.
The authors are keen to point out that their investigation has certain limitations. The study only analysed the information provided on the clinics’ websites and did not assess the quality of the treatment provided by the clinics.
Therefore, the study’s fndings cannot be generalized to the quality of the acupuncture treatment provided by the clinics.
Nonetheless the paper touches on very important issues: far too many health clinics that offer SCAM for this or that indication operate way outside the ethically (and legally) acceptable norm. They advertise their services without making it clear that they are neither effective nor safe. Desperate consumers thus fall for their promises. In the case of infertility, this might result merely in frustration and loss of (often substantial amounts of) money. In the case of serious disease, such as cancer, this often results in premature death.
It is time, I think, that this entire sector is regualted in a way that it does not endanger the well-being, health, or life of consumers.
The Shakti Mat is all the rage! It is claimed to offer an “unforgettable experience that targets mind and body tension through acupressure. The nail bed is an ancient healing practice that has been used in India for over 3,000 years. 20 minutes is all it takes. Common uses are for pain and stress relief, muscle tension, soothing headaches and deeper sleep … Join a Shakti community of millions experiencing the benefits of relaxation and rest through this consciously crafted wellbeing tool. 20 minutes is all it takes to decompress and reset your body, unravel your mind and completely transform your sleep. Alleviate and unwind with powerful Eastern acupressure that will give you sanctuary within the demands of the modern lifestyle.”
Yes, that sounds like pure hype. A hopelessly uncritical article for physios is hardly any better; it concluded that “acupressure Mats are not something to be ignored if you have chronic pain, stress and anxiety, trouble sleeping or want to do everything you can to help recover faster. There is definitely some scientific reasoning and research backing up its use although not all research is conclusive or agrees.”
As it turns out, the Internet is full of such hype:
But is there any real evidence, at all?
Not a lot!
Here are two trials that I found:
This study investigated subjective and physiologic responses of lying on a bed of nails (BN) called the Shakti-mat and of listening to relaxing instructions and music. The BN has 6210 sharp-edge 5-mm plastic nails about 5 mm apart.
Design: Thirty-two (32) healthy participants went through four conditions in randomized orders combining BN and relaxing instructions.
Results: The subjective pain ratings on the BN increased immediately and reached a peak within 30 seconds. The pain then subsided gradually, indicating a habituation effect. Self-rated relaxation increased over time in all conditions. Systolic and diastolic blood pressures were higher, heart rate was slower, and there was more high-frequency power heart rate variability (HRV), and signs of increasing circulation in the back on the BN. The relaxation instruction especially affected breathing and the HRV-indices standard deviations of normal interbeat intervals and low-frequency power, both known to be responsive to slow breathing. There were no differences in saliva cortisol.
Conclusions: Healthy participants habituated to the induced pain on the BN and were able to subjectively relax. When on a BN, signs of both sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity were observed. The pain may hypothetically have triggered a parasympathetic response.
Self-care treatments with bed of nails or spike mats have gained increased popularity world-wide; advertised as a method for pain reduction and wellbeing. Scientific studies regarding effects are still lacking. The aim of the present study was to investigate if daily relaxation on a spike mat for three weeks could induce beneficial effects. Participants were 36 individuals suffering from muscle ten-sion pains in their back or/and neck. They were randomly assigned to a control group or an experimental group, who were treated with 15 minutes daily rest during three weeks on the spike mat. Significant reduced experi-enced worst pain intensity was found. There were no effects on normal pain intensity, opti-mism, anxiety, depression, stress, energy, or sleep quality. The participants appreciated the treatment, but their enthusiastic verbal reports of experienced beneficial effects could not be verified in the statistical analyses. The reduction of worst pain may be explained by the gate-control theory, where competing stim-uli applied over the affected area produce a pain reduction. It can also be an effect of place-bo or the relaxation. More research on relax-ation on a spike mat is needed before its possi-ble effects can be confirmed. No negative effects were found in the present study, but it has to be remembered no studies investigating risks for treatment on spike mats exist.
So, unless you have a masochistic streak, you might save the money and time the Shakti therapy would cost you for something more worthwhile and enjoyable.
Charles has a well-documented weakness for so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – not just any SCAM but predominantly the type of SCAM that is both implausible and ineffective. Therefore, nobody can be all that surprised to read in THE TIMES that he has decided to use SCAM for helping women who have difficulties getting pregnant.
If one really wanted to employ SCAM for this aim one is spoilt for choice. In fact, there are only few SCAMs that don’t claim to be useful for this purpose.
A recent review, for instance, suggested that some supplements might be helpful. Other authors advocate SCAMs such as acupuncture, moxibustion, Chinese herbal medicine, psychological intervention, biosimilar electrical stimulation, homeopathy, or hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Yes, I know! The evidence for these treatments is lousy, and I would never issue a recommendation based on such flimsy evidence.
Yet, the SCAM project at Dumfries House, the Scottish stately home Charles restored in 2007, offers acupuncture, reflexology, massage, yoga, and hypnotherapy for infertile women.
Reflexology, also called zone therapy, is a manual treatment where pressure is applied usually to the sole of the patient’s foot and sometimes also to other areas such as the hands or ears. According to its proponents, foot reflexology is more than a simple foot massage that makes no therapeutic claims beyond relaxation. It is based on the idea that the human body is divided into 10 zones each of which is represented on the sole of the foot. Reflexologists employ maps of the sole of the foot where the body’s organs are depicted. By massaging specific zones which are assumed to be connected to specific organs, reflexologists believe to positively influence the function of these organs. While reflexology is mostly used as a therapy, some therapists also claim they can diagnose health problems through feeling tender or gritty areas on the sole of the foot which, they claim, correspond to specific organs.
Reflexology is not merely implausible as a treatment for infertility, it also boasts of some fairly rigorous trial evidence. A clinical trial (perhaps even the most rigorous of all the trials of SCAM for female fertility problems) testing whether foot reflexology might have a positive effect on the induction of ovulation stated that “the results suggest that any effect on ovulation would not be clinically relevant”.
So, as so often before in the realm of SCAM, Charles has demonstrated that his lack of critical thinking leads him to the least promising options.
Well done, Your Majesty!
There are debates in acupuncture-related systematic reviews and meta-analyses on whether searching Chinese databases to get more Chinese-language studies may increase the risk of bias and overestimate the effect size, and whether the treatment effects of acupuncture differ between Chinese and non-Chinese populations.
For this meta-epidemiological study, a team of investigators searched the Cochrane Library from its inception until December 2021, and identified systematic reviews and meta-analyses with acupuncture as one of the interventions. Paired reviewers independently screened the reviews and extracted the information. They repeated the meta-analysis of the selected outcomes to separately pool the results of Chinese- and non-Chinese-language acupuncture studies and presented the pooled estimates as odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence interval (CI). They calculated the Ratio of ORs (ROR) by dividing the OR of the Chinese-language trials by the OR of the non-Chinese-language trials, and the ROR by dividing the OR of trials addressing Chinese population by the OR of trials addressing non-Chinese population. The researchers thus explored whether the impact of a high risk of bias on the effect size differed between studies published in Chinese- and in non-Chinese-language, and whether the treatment effects of acupuncture differed between Chinese and non-Chinese populations.
The researchers identified 84 Cochrane acupuncture reviews involving 33 Cochrane groups, of which 31 reviews (37%) searched Chinese databases. Searching versus not searching Chinese databases significantly increased the contribution of Chinese-language literature both to the total number of included trials (54% vs. 15%) and the sample size (40% vs. 15%). When compared with non-Chinese-language trials, Chinese-language trials were associated with a larger effect size (pooled ROR 0.51, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.91). The researchers also observed a higher risk of bias in Chinese-language trials in blinding of participants and personnel (97% vs. 51%) and blinding of outcome assessment (93% vs. 47%). The higher risk of bias was associated with a larger effect estimate in both Chinese language (allocation concealment: high/unclear risk vs. low risk, ROR 0.43, 95% CI 0.21 to 0.87) and non-Chinese-language studies (blinding of participants and personnel: high/unclear risk vs. low risk, ROR 0.41, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.74). However, the team found no evidence that the higher risk of bias would increase the effect size of acupuncture in Chinese-language studies more often than in non-Chinese-language studies (the confidence intervals of all ROR in the high-risk group included 1, Table 3). The researchers further found acupuncture appeared to be more effective in Chinese than in non-Chinese populations.
The authors concluded that the findings of this study suggest the higher risk of bias may lead to an overestimation of the treatment effects of acupuncture but would not increase the treatment effects in Chinese-language studies more often than in other language studies. The difference in treatment effects of acupuncture was probably associated with differences in population characteristics.
The authors discuss that, although searching Chinese databases can substantially increase the number of eligible studies and sample size in acupuncture reviews, the potentially higher risk of bias is an argument that needs to be considered in the inclusion of Chinese-language studies. Patients, investigators, and guideline panels should be cautious when adopting evidence from acupuncture reviews where studies with a high risk of bias contributed with a high weight to the meta-analysis.
The authors observed larger treatment effects of acupuncture in Chinese-language studies than in studies published in other languages. Although the treatment effects of acupuncture tended to be greater in studies with a high risk of bias, this potential overestimation did not differ between studies published in Chinese and in other languages. In other words, the larger treatment effects in Chinese-language studies cannot be explained by a high risk of bias. Furthermore, our study found acupuncture to be more effective in Chinese populations than in other populations, which could at least partly explain the larger treatment effects observed in Chinese-language studies.
I feel that this analysis obfuscates more than it clarifies. As we have discussed often here, acupuncture studies by Chinese researchers (regardless of what language they are published in) hardly ever report negative results, and their findings are often fabricated. It, therefore, is not surprising that their effect sizes are larger than those of other trials.
The only sensible conclusion from this messy and regrettable situation, in my view, is to be very cautious and exclude them from systematic reviews.
Seventeen years after S.K. lost his thyroid gland to cancer, he was promised a miracle by Kyung Chun Oh, an acupuncturist based in the Toronto area: acupuncture could regrow the vital organ. Oh told his patient it would only work if S.K. stopped the thyroid medication he’d been on since his surgery in 2003.
Within just a few months the patient had to be admitted to hospital with a life-threatening case of hypothyroidism. His thyroid had not regenerated. “It was fortunate that the patient did not die,” a college panel wrote in a disciplinary decision, suspending Oh’s license for 12 months. “Telling the patient that he should not take his thyroid medication was irresponsible and had disastrous repercussions.”
The panel found that Oh had engaged in professional misconduct in multiple ways:
- he had provided unnecessary treatment,
- he had failed to advise his patient to consult a medical doctor when he learned that S.K. was suffering
from symptoms that he knew or ought to have known indicated an urgent medical problem,
- he had treated a condition that he ought to have known that he did not have the knowledge, skills, or judgment to treat,
- he had failed to keep records in accordance with the standards of the profession,
- he had falsified a record relating to his practice,
- he had made a claim about a treatment that could not be supported by reasonable professional opinion (the claim that acupuncture combined with cessation of thyroid medicine could regrow a surgically removed thyroid gland, and the claim that S.K.’s thyroid gland was regrowing).
This is clearly an extreme incidence of misconduct and one would hope that such cases occur only rarely. But looking at the points listed above, I get the feeling that similar yet less severe cases of misconduct happen regularly in the practices of SCAM practitioners:
- most so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) treatments are unnecessary,
- SCAM practitioners refer patients only rarely to doctors,
- SCAM practitioners often treat conditions that they fail to understand adequately,
- SCAM practitioners frequently make unreasonable claims.
Low back pain is the leading cause of years lived with disability globally, but most interventions have only short-lasting, small to moderate effects. Cognitive functional therapy (CFT) is an individualized approach that targets unhelpful pain-related cognitions, emotions, and behaviors that contribute to pain and disability. Movement sensor biofeedback might enhance treatment effects.
This study aimed to compare the effectiveness and economic efficiency of CFT, delivered with or without movement sensor biofeedback, with usual care for patients with chronic, disabling low back pain.
RESTORE was a randomized, three-arm, parallel-group, phase 3 trial, done in 20 primary care physiotherapy clinics in Australia. The researchers recruited adults (aged ≥18 years) with low back pain lasting more than 3 months with at least moderate pain-related physical activity limitation. Exclusion criteria were serious spinal pathology (eg, fracture, infection, or cancer), any medical condition that prevented being physically active, being pregnant or having given birth within the previous 3 months, inadequate English literacy for the study’s questionnaires and instructions, a skin allergy to hypoallergenic tape adhesives, surgery scheduled within 3 months, or an unwillingness to travel to trial sites. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1:1) via a centralized adaptive schedule to
- usual care,
- CFT only,
- CFT plus biofeedback.
The primary clinical outcome was activity limitation at 13 weeks, self-reported by participants using the 24-point Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire. The primary economic outcome was quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs). Participants in both interventions received up to seven treatment sessions over 12 weeks plus a booster session at 26 weeks. Physiotherapists and patients were not masked.
Between Oct 23, 2018, and Aug 3, 2020, the researchers assessed 1011 patients for eligibility. After excluding 519 (51·3%) ineligible patients, they randomly assigned 492 (48·7%) participants; 164 (33%) to CFT only, 163 (33%) to CFT plus biofeedback, and 165 (34%) to usual care. Both interventions were more effective than usual care (CFT only mean difference –4·6 [95% CI –5·9 to –3·4] and CFT plus biofeedback mean difference –4·6 [–5·8 to –3·3]) for activity limitation at 13 weeks (primary endpoint). Effect sizes were similar at 52 weeks. Both interventions were also more effective than usual care for QALYs, and much less costly in terms of societal costs (direct and indirect costs and productivity losses; –AU$5276 [–10 529 to –24) and –8211 (–12 923 to –3500).
The authors concluded that CFT can produce large and sustained improvements for people with chronic disabling low back pain at considerably lower societal cost than that of usual care.
This is a well-designed and well-reported study. It shows that CFT is better than usual care. The effect sizes are not huge and seem similar to many other treatments for chronic LBP, including the numerous so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) options that are available.
Faced with a situation where we have virtually dozens of therapies of similar effectiveness, what should we recommend to patients? I think this question is best and most ethically answered by accounting for two other important determinants of usefulness:
CFT is both low in risk and cost. So is therapeutic exercise. We would therefore need a direct comparison of the two to decide which is the optimal approach.
Until we have such a study, patients might just opt for one or both of them. What seems clear, meanwhile, is this: SCAM does not offer the best solution to chronic LBP. In particular, chiropractic, osteopathy, or acupuncture – which are neither low-cost nor risk-free – are, contrary to what some try so very hard to convince us of, sensible options.
I found this acupuncture study from the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Sciences, “Sapienza” University of Rome, Rome, Italy. As this seems to be a respectable institution, I had a look. What I found was remarkable! Let me show you the abstract in its full beauty:
Background: Pain related to Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) is severe, negatively affecting patients’ quality of life, and often resistant to conventional treatments. Abdominal Acupuncture (AA) is known to be particularly effective for pain, especially chronic and musculoskeletal pain, but it is still poorly studied and never investigated in TMD patients. Objectives: To analyze the efficacy of AA for the treatment of patients with subacute and chronic pain related to TMD and non-responding to previous conventional therapies (occlusal splint, medications, physical therapy).
Methods: Twenty-eight patients, 24 F and four M (mean age 49.36 years), were recruited from January 2019-February 2021. All patients underwent AA treatment: two sessions per week for four weeks, for a total of eight sessions. At the beginning of therapy (T0) and at the end of the cycle (T1) the following data were evaluated: maximum mouth opening (MMO); cranio-facial pain related to TMD (verbal numeric scale, VNS); pain interference with normal activities and quality of life of patients (Brief Pain Inventory, BPI); oral functioning (Oral Behavior Checklist, OBC); impression of treatment effectiveness (Patients’ Global Impression of Improvement, PGI-I Scale). Statistical comparison of data before and after the AA treatment was performed by Wilcoxon’s signed-rank test (significance level p < 0.05).
Results: The MMO values were significantly improved after one cycle of AA (p = 0.0002). In addition, TMD-related pain had a statistically significant decline following AA treatment (all p < 0.001). Patients’ general activity and quality of life (BPI) were described as improved following a course of AA, with statistically significant values for all aspects considered (all p < 0.05).
Conclusion: Abdominal acupuncture resulted in effective treatment of subacute/chronic resistant pain related to TMD, capable of improving mandibular function and facial pain, and reduced the interference of pain affecting patients’ quality of life.
This study did not include a control group. Such uncontrolled studies are not necessarily useless. In areas where there is no prior evidence, they can be a reasonable starting point for further research. In the case of TMD/acupuncture, however, this does not imply. Here we already have about a dozen controlled trials. This means an uncontrolled study cannot possibly contribute to our knowledge. This means that the present study is useless. And that, in turn, means it is unethical.
But even if we ignore all this, the study is very misleading. It concludes that acupuncture improved TMD. This, however, can be doubted!
- What about placebo?
- What about regression toward the mean?
- What about the natural history of the condition?
Bad science is regrettable and dangerous, as it
- wastes resources,
- misleads vulnerable patients,
- violates ethics,
- and undermines trust in science.
I fear that the Italian group has just provided us with a prime example of these points.
Cervical radiculopathy is a common condition that is usually due to compression or injury to a nerve root by a herniated disc or other degenerative changes of the upper spine. The C5 to T1 levels are the most commonly affected. In such cases local and radiating pains, often with neurological deficits, are the most prominent symptoms. Treatment of this condition is often difficult.
The purpose of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness and safety of conservative interventions compared with other interventions, placebo/sham interventions, or no intervention on disability, pain, function, quality of life, and psychological impact in adults with cervical radiculopathy (CR).
MEDLINE, CENTRAL, CINAHL, Embase, and PsycINFO were searched from inception to June 15, 2022, to identify studies that were randomized clinical trials, had at least one conservative treatment arm, and diagnosed participants with CR through confirmatory clinical examination and/or diagnostic tests. Studies were appraised using the Cochrane Risk of Bias 2 tool and the quality of the evidence was rated using the Grades of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation approach.
Of the 2561 records identified, 59 trials met our inclusion criteria (n = 4108 participants). Due to clinical and statistical heterogeneity, the findings were synthesized narratively. The results show very-low certainty evidence supporting the use of
- cervical manipulation,
- low-level laser therapy
for pain and disability in the immediate to short-term, and thoracic manipulation and low-level laser therapy for improvements in cervical range of motion in the immediate term.
There is low to very-low certainty evidence for multimodal interventions, providing inconclusive evidence for pain, disability, and range of motion. There is inconclusive evidence for pain reduction after conservative management compared with surgery, rated as very-low certainty.
The authors concluded that there is a lack of high-quality evidence, limiting our ability to make any meaningful conclusions. As the number of people with CR is expected to increase, there is an urgent need for future research to help address these gaps.
The fact that we cannot offer a truly effective therapy for CR has long been known – except, of course, to chiropractors, acupuncturists, osteopaths, and other SCAM providers who offer their services as though they are a sure solution. Sometimes, their treatments seem to work; but this could be just because the symptoms of CR can improve spontaneously, unrelated to any intervention.
The question thus arises what should these often badly suffering patients do if spontaneous remission does not occur? As an answer, let me quote from another recent systematic review of the subject: The 6 included studies that had low risk of bias, providing high-quality evidence for the surgical efficacy of Cervical Spondylotic Radiculopathy. The evidence indicates that surgical treatment is better than conservative treatment … and superior to conservative treatment in less than one year.
Menopausal symptoms are a domaine of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), not least because many women are worried about hormone treatments and therefore want ‘something natural’. TCM practitioners are only too keen to offer their services. But do their treatments really work?
This study aimed to analyze the effectiveness of acupuncture combined with Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) on mood disorder symptoms for menopausal women.
A total of 95 qualified Chinese participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- 31 in the acupuncture combined with CHM group (combined group),
- 32 in the acupuncture combined with CHM placebo group (acupuncture group),
- 32 in the CHM combined with sham acupuncture group (CHM group).
The patients were treated for 8 weeks and followed up for 4 weeks. The data were collected using the Greene Climacteric Scale (GCS), self-rating depression scale (SDS), self-rating anxiety scale (SAS), and safety index.
The three groups each showed significant decreases in the GCS, SDS, and SAS after treatment (p < 0.05). Furthermore, the effect on the GCS total score and the anxiety domain lasted until the follow-up period in the combined group (p < 0.05). Within the three groups, there was no difference in GCS and SAS between the three groups after treatment (p > 0.05). However, the combined group showed significant improvement in the SDS, compared with both the acupuncture group and the CHM group at 8 weeks and 12 weeks (p < 0.05). No obvious abnormal cases were found in any of the safety indexes.
The authors concluded that the results suggest that either acupuncture, or CHM or combined therapy offer safe improvement of mood disorder symptoms for menopausal women. However, the combination therapy was associated with more stable effects in the follow-up period and a superior effect on improving depression symptoms.
Previous reviews have drawn conclusions that are far less positive, e.g.:
- the observed clinical benefit associated with acupuncture may be due, in part, or in whole to nonspecific effects.
- the evidence gathered was not sufficient to affirm the effectiveness of traditional acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture.
- For natural menopause, one large study has shown acupuncture to be superior to self-care alone in reducing the number of hot flushes and improving the quality of life; five small studies have been unable to demonstrate that the effect of acupuncture is limited to any particular points, as traditional theory would suggest; and one study showed acupuncture was superior to blunt needle for flash frequency but not intensity.
- Sham-controlled RCTs fail to show specific effects of acupuncture for control of menopausal hot flushes.
It seems therefore wise to take the conclusions of the new study with a pinch of salt. The intergroup difference observed in this trial may well be due to residual biases, multiple testing, or coincidence. And the reported intragroup differences are in complete accord with the fact that the employed therapies are mere placebos.
This, of course, begs the question of whether SCAM has anything else to offer for women suffering from menopausal symptoms. To answer it, I can refer you to one of our systematic reviews:
Some evidence exists in favour of phytosterols and phytostanols for diminishing LDL and total cholesterol in postmenopausal women. Similarly, regular fiber intake is effective in reducing serum total cholesterol in hypercholesterolemic postmenopausal women. Clinical evidence also exists on the effectiveness of vitamin K, a combination of calcium and vitamin D or a combination of walking with other weight-bearing exercise in reducing bone mineral density loss and the incidence of fractures in postmenopausal women. Black cohosh appears to be effective therapy for relieving menopausal symptoms, primarily hot flashes, in early menopause. Phytoestrogen extracts, including isoflavones and lignans, appear to have only minimal effect on hot flashes but have other positive health effects, e.g. on plasma lipid levels and bone loss. For other commonly used CAMs, e.g. probiotics, prebiotics, acupuncture, homeopathy and DHEA-S, randomized, placebo-controlled trials are scarce and the evidence is unconvincing. More and better RCTs testing the effectiveness of these treatments are needed.