This randomized clinical trial tested the effects of laying on of hands (LooH) as a complementary therapy to kinesiotherapy, on pain, joint stiffness, and functional capacity of older women with knee osteoarthritis (KOA) compared to a control group.
Participants were assigned into 3 groups:
- LooH with a spiritual component (Group – SPG),
- LooH without a spiritual component (Group – LHG),
- a control group receiving no complementary intervention (Control Group – CG).
Patients were assessed at baseline, 8 weeks, and 16 weeks. Primary outcomes were joint stiffness and functional capacity (Western Ontario and McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index [WOMAC]), and pain (WOMAC and visual analogue scale). Secondary outcomes were anxiety, depression, mobility, and quality of life. Differences between groups were evaluated using an intention-to-treat approach.
A total of 120 women with KOA were randomized (40 participants per group). At 8 weeks, SPG differed significantly from the LHG for WOMAC Functional Status; Anxiety levels; and also from the CG for all outcomes with exception of WOMAC Stiffness. After 16 weeks, SPG differed significantly from the LHG only for WOMAC Functional Status and also from the CG for all outcomes with exception of WOMAC Stiffness and timed up-and-go.
The authors concluded that the results suggest that LooH with a “spiritual component” may promote better long-term functional outcomes than both LooH without a “spiritual component” and a control group without LooH.
This is an interesting study which seems well designed. Its findings are surprising and lack scientific plausibility. Therefore, sceptics will find it hard to accept the results and suspect some hidden bias or confounding to have caused it rather than the laying on of hands. SCAM enthusiasts would then probably claim that such an attitude exemplifies the bias of sceptics.
So, what can be done to find out who is right and who is wrong?
Whenever we are faced with a surprising finding based on a seemingly rigorous trial, it is wise to realise that there is a plethora of possible explanations and that speculations are usually not very helpful. There is always a danger of a clinical trial producing false or misleading findings. This could be due to a plethora of reasons such as error, undetected bias or confounding, fraud, etc.
What we really need is an independent replication – better two.
Opioid over-use has become a huge problem, particularly in the US. Proponents of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) – or so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) as I prefer to call it these days – have been keen to suggest that they have a solution to this problem. But is this really true? So far, the evidence was slim, to say the least.
This systematic review evaluated the effectiveness of the integrative medicine (IM) approach or any of the CAM therapies to reduce or cease opioid use in CP patients.
The electronic searches yielded 5,200 citations. Twenty-three studies were selected. Eight studies were randomized controlled trials, 7 were retrospective studies, 4 studies were prospective observational, 3 were cross-sectional, and one was quasi-experimental. The majority of the studies showed that opioid use was reduced significantly after using IM. Cannabinoids were among the most commonly investigated approaches in reducing opioid use, followed by multidisciplinary approaches, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and acupuncture. The majority of the studies had limitations related to sample size, duration, and study design.
The authors concluded that there is a small but defined body of literature demonstrating positive preliminary evidence that the IM approach including CAM therapies can help in reducing opioid use. As the opioid crisis continues to grow, it is vital that clinicians and patients be adequately informed regarding the evidence and opportunities for IM/CAM therapies for CP.
The authors who are from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Ontario, Canada (and who claim to have no conflict of interest) seem to have forgotten to discuss some not so unimportant details and questions:
- Why did they include studies with extremely weak designs in their review (such studies are likely to produce false positive findings)?
- Why did they consider treatments such as CBT as CAM (most experts would characterise them as conventional psychological therapies)?
- Why did they not conduct a separate analysis of the RCT-evidence (is it because that would not have generated the result they wanted?)?
My reading of the RCTs – the only type of study that might give a reliable answer to the question posed- is that they do not show a opioid-sparing effect of CAM use, particularly if we eliminate those studies that tested treatments which are not truly CAM. In any case, as I have said several times before, the way to avoid over-prescribing opioid is not through using more therapies of doubtful effectiveness but through prescribing less opioids. And to achieve that, doctors should just do what they learnt in medical school (at least I did all those years ago).
Much of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is used in the management of osteoarthritis pain. Yet few of us ever seem to ask whether SCAMs are more or less effective and safe than conventional treatments.
This review determined how many patients with chronic osteoarthritis pain respond to various non-surgical treatments. Published systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that included meta-analysis of responder outcomes for at least 1 of the following interventions were included: acetaminophen, oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), topical NSAIDs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, cannabinoids, counselling, exercise, platelet-rich plasma, viscosupplementation (intra-articular injections usually with hyaluronic acid ), glucosamine, chondroitin, intra-articular corticosteroids, rubefacients, or opioids.
In total, 235 systematic reviews were included. Owing to limited reporting of responder meta-analyses, a post hoc decision was made to evaluate individual RCTs with responder analysis within the included systematic reviews. New meta-analyses were performed where possible. A total of 155 RCTs were included. Interventions that led to more patients attaining meaningful pain relief compared with control included:
- exercise (risk ratio [RR] of 2.36; 95% CI 1.79 to 3.12),
- intra-articular corticosteroids (RR = 1.74; 95% CI 1.15 to 2.62),
- SNRIs (RR = 1.53; 95% CI 1.25 to 1.87),
- oral NSAIDs (RR = 1.44; 95% CI 1.36 to 1.52),
- glucosamine (RR = 1.33; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.74),
- topical NSAIDs (RR = 1.27; 95% CI 1.16 to 1.38),
- chondroitin (RR = 1.26; 95% CI 1.13 to 1.41),
- viscosupplementation (RR = 1.22; 95% CI 1.12 to 1.33),
- opioids (RR = 1.16; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.32).
Pre-planned subgroup analysis demonstrated no effect with glucosamine, chondroitin, or viscosupplementation in studies that were only publicly funded. When trials longer than 4 weeks were analysed, the benefits of opioids were not statistically significant.
The authors concluded that interventions that provide meaningful relief for chronic osteoarthritis pain might include exercise, intra-articular corticosteroids, SNRIs, oral and topical NSAIDs, glucosamine, chondroitin, viscosupplementation, and opioids. However, funding of studies and length of treatment are important considerations in interpreting these data.
Exercise clearly is an effective intervention for chronic osteoarthritis pain. It has consistently been recommended by international guideline groups as the first-line treatment in osteoarthritis management. The type of exercise is likely not important.
Pharmacotherapies such as NSAIDs and duloxetine demonstrate smaller but statistically significant benefit that continues beyond 12 weeks. Opioids appear to have short-term benefits that attenuate after 4 weeks, and intra-articular steroids after 12 weeks. Limited data (based on 2 RCTs) suggest that acetaminophen is not helpful. These findings are consistent with recent Osteoarthritis Research Society International guideline recommendations that no longer recommend acetaminophen for osteoarthritis pain management and strongly recommend against the use of opioids.
Limited benefit was observed with other interventions including glucosamine, chondroitin, and viscosupplementation. When only publicly funded trials were examined for these interventions, the results were no longer statistically significant.
Adverse events were inconsistently reported. However, withdrawal due to adverse events was consistently reported and found to be greater in patients using opioids, SNRIs, topical NSAIDs, and viscosupplementation.
Few of the interventions assessed fall under the umbrella of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):
- some forms of exercise,
It is unclear why the authors did not include SCAMs such as chiropractic, osteopathy, massage therapy, acupuncture, herbal medicines, neural therapy, etc. in their review. All of these SCAMs are frequently used for osteoarthritis pain. If they had included these treatments, how do you think they would have fared?
Excessive eccentric exercise of inadequately conditioned skeletal muscle results in focal sites of injury within the muscle fibres. These injuries cause pain which usually is greatest about 72 hours after the exercise. This type of pain is called delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and provides an accessible model for studying the effects of various treatments that are said to have anaesthetic activities; it can easily be reproducibly generated without lasting harm or ethical concerns.
In so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) DOMS is employed regularly to test treatments which are promoted for pain management. Thus several acupuncture trials using this method have become available. Yet, the evidence for the effects of acupuncture on DOMS is inconsistent which begs the question whether across all trials an effects emerges.
The aim of this systematic review therefore was to explore the effects of acupuncture on DOMS. Studies investigating the effect of acupuncture on DOMS in humans that were published before March 2020 were obtained from 8 electronic databases. The affected muscles, groups, acupuncture points, treatment sessions, assessments, assessment times, and outcomes of the included articles were reviewed. The data were extracted and analysed via a meta-analysis.
A total of 15 articles were included, and relief of DOMS-related pain was the primary outcome. The meta-analysis showed that there were no significant differences between acupuncture and sham/control groups, except for acupuncture for DOMS on day 1 (total SMD = -0.62; 95% CI = -1.12∼0.11, P < 0.05) by comparing with control groups.
The authors concluded that acupuncture for DOMS exhibited very-small-to-small and small-to-moderate effects on pain relief for the sham and no acupuncture conditions, respectively. Evidence indicating the effects of acupuncture on DOMS was little because the outcome data during the follow-up were insufficient to perform an effective meta-analysis.
A mere glance at the Forrest plot reveals that acupuncture is unlikely to have any effect on DOMS at all. The very small average effect that does emerge originates mainly from one outlier, the 2008 study by Itoh et al. This trial was published by three acupuncturists from the Department of Clinical Acupuncture and Moxibustion, Meiji University of Integrative Medicine, Kyoto, Japan. It has numerous weaknesses, for instance there are just 10 volunteers in each group, and can therefore be safely discarded.
In essence, this means that there is no good evidence that acupuncture is effective at reducing pain caused by DOMS.
My new book has just been published. Allow me to try and whet your appetite by showing you the book’s introduction:
“There is no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data or unproven medicine, for which scientific evidence is lacking.” These words of Fontanarosa and Lundberg were published 22 years ago. Today, they are as relevant as ever, particularly to the type of healthcare I often call ‘so-called alternative medicine’ (SCAM), and they certainly are relevant to chiropractic.
Invented more than 120 years ago by the magnetic healer DD Palmer, chiropractic has had a colourful history. It has now grown into one of the most popular of all SCAMs. Its general acceptance might give the impression that chiropractic, the art of adjusting by hand all subluxations of the three hundred articulations of the human skeletal frame, is solidly based on evidence. It is therefore easy to forget that a plethora of fundamental questions about chiropractic remain unanswered.
I wrote this book because I feel that the amount of misinformation on chiropractic is scandalous and demands a critical evaluation of the evidence. The book deals with many questions that consumers often ask:
- How well-established is chiropractic?
- What treatments do chiropractors use?
- What conditions do they treat?
- What claims do they make?
- Are their assumptions reasonable?
- Are chiropractic spinal manipulations effective?
- Are these manipulations safe?
- Do chiropractors behave professionally and ethically?
Am I up to this task, and can you trust my assessments? These are justified questions; let me try to answer them by giving you a brief summary of my professional background.
I grew up in Germany where SCAM is hugely popular. I studied medicine and, as a young doctor, was enthusiastic about SCAM. After several years in basic research, I returned to clinical medicine, became professor of rehabilitation medicine first in Hanover, Germany, and then in Vienna, Austria. In 1993, I was appointed as Chair in Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter. In this capacity, I built up a multidisciplinary team of scientists conducting research into all sorts of SCAM with one focus on chiropractic. I retired in 2012 and am now an emeritus professor. I have published many peer-reviewed articles on the subject, and I have no conflicts of interest. If my long career has taught me anything, it is this: in the best interest of consumers and patients, we must insist on sound evidence; not opinion, not wishful thinking; evidence.
In critically assessing the issues related to chiropractic, I am guided by the most reliable and up-to-date scientific evidence. The conclusions I reach often suggest that chiropractic is not what it is often cracked up to be. Hundreds of books have been published that disagree. If you are in doubt who to trust, the promoter or the critic of chiropractic, I suggest you ask yourself a simple question: who is more likely to provide impartial information, the chiropractor who makes a living by his trade, or the academic who has researched the subject for the last 30 years?
This book offers an easy to understand, concise and dependable evaluation of chiropractic. It enables you to make up your own mind. I want you to take therapeutic decisions that are reasonable and based on solid evidence. My book should empower you to do just that.
Acute radiation-induced proctitis (ARP) is a common side effect following radiotherapy for malignant pelvic disease. It occurs in about 75% of patients and often proves difficult to treat thus causing much pain and suffering. Aloe vera has been advocated for the prevention of ARP, but does it work?
This study evaluated the efficacy of Aloe vera ointment in prevention of ARP. Forty-two patients receiving external-beam radiotherapy (RT) for pelvic malignancies were randomized to receive either Aloe vera 3% or placebo topical ointment during radiotherapy for 6 weeks. Participants applied ointments especially manufactured for the study rectally via applicator, from the first day of starting radiotherapy for 6 weeks, 1 g twice daily. They were evaluated based on the severity (grade 0-4) of the following symptoms weekly: rectal bleeding, abdominal/rectal pain, diarrhoea, or faecal urgency. RTOG acute toxicity criteria and psychosocial status of the patients were also recorded weekly. Lifestyle impact of the symptoms, and quantitative measurement of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of systemic inflammation, were also measured.
The results demonstrated a significant preventive effect for Aloe vera in occurrence of symptom index for diarrhoea (p < 0.001), rectal bleeding (p < 0.001), and faecal urgency (p = 0.001). The median lifestyle score improved significantly with Aloe vera during RT (p < 0.001). Intervention patients had a significant lower burden of systemic inflammation as the values for quantitative CRP decreased significantly over 6 weeks of follow-up (p = 0.009).
The authors concluded that Aloe vera topical ointment was effective in prevention of symptoms of ARP in patients undergoing RT for pelvic cancers.
This is by no means the first study of its kind. A previous trial had concluded that a substantial number of patients with radiation proctitis seem to benefit from therapy with Aloe vera 3% ointment. And another study has shown that the prophylactic use of Aloe vera reduces the intensity of radiation-induced dermatitis.
The new trial seems to be methodologically the best so far. Yet it is not perfect, for instance, its sample size is small. Therefore, it would probably be wise to insist on more compelling evidence before this approach can be recommended in oncological routine care.
The purpose of this feasibility study was to:
(1) educate participants about the concept of Reiki,
(2) give participants the opportunity to experience six Reiki therapy sessions and subsequently assess outcomes on chronic pain,
(3) assess participants’ impression of and willingness to continue using and recommending Reiki therapy as adjunct for the treatment of chronic pain.
Using a prospective repeated measures pre- and postintervention design, a convenience sample of 30 military health care beneficiaries with chronic pain were educated about Reiki and received six 30-minute Reiki sessions over 2 to 3 weeks. Pain was assessed using a battery of pain assessment tools as well as assessment of impression of and willingness to share the concept of Reiki.
Repeated measures ANOVA analyses showed that there was significant decrease (P < 0.001) in present, average, and worst pain over the course of the six sessions with the most significant effect occurring up to the fourth session. When a variety of descriptor of pain was assessed, Reiki had a significant effect on 12 out of the 22 assessed, with the most significant effect on pain that was described as tingling/pins and needles (P = 0.001), sharp (P = 0.001), and aching (P = 0.001). Pain’s interference with general activity, walking, relationships, sleep, enjoyment of life, and stress significantly decreased (P < 0.001 to P = 0.002). Impression of improvement scores increased 27 % by session 6, and one’s knowledge about Reiki improved 43%. Eighty-one percent of the participants stated that they would consider scheduling Reiki sessions if they were offered with 70% desiring at least four sessions per month.
The authors concluded that 30-minute Reiki session, performed by a trained Reiki practitioner, is feasible in an outpatient setting with possible positive outcomes for participants who are willing to try at least four consecutive sessions. Reiki has the ability to impact a variety of types of pain as well as positively impacting those activities of life that pain often interferes with. However, education and the opportunity to experience this energy healing modality are key for its acceptance in military health care facilities as well as more robust clinical studies within the military health care system to further assess its validity and efficacy.
Where to begin?
- As a feasibility study, this trial should not evaluate outcome data; yet the paper focusses on them.
- To educate people one does certainly not require to conduct a study.
- That Reiki ‘is feasible in an outpatient setting‘ is obvious and does not need a study either.
- The finding that ‘Reiki had a significant effect’ is an unjustified and impermissible extrapolation; without a control group, it is not possible to determine whether the treatment or placebo-effects, or the regression towards the mean, or the natural history of the condition, or a mixture of these phenomena caused the observed outcome.
- The conclusion that ‘Reiki has the ability to impact a variety of types of pain as well as positively impacting those activities of life that pain often interferes with’ is quite simply wrong.
- The authors mention that ‘This study was approved by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Institutional Review Board’; I would argue that the review board must have been fast asleep.
As recently reported, the most thorough review of the subject showed that the evidence for acupuncture as a treatment for chronic pain is very weak. Yesterday, NICE published a draft report that seems to somewhat disagree with this conclusion (and today, this is being reported in most of the UK daily papers). The draft is now open to public consultation until 14 September 2020 and many of my readers might want to comment.
The draft report essentially suggests that people with chronic primary pain (CPP) should not get pain-medication of any type, but be offered supervised group exercise programmes, some types of psychological therapy, or acupuncture. While I understand that chronic pain should not be treated with long-term pain-medications – I did even learn this in medical school all those years ago – one might be puzzled by the mention of acupuncture.
But perhaps we need first ask, WHAT IS CPP? The NICE report informs us that CPP represents chronic pain as a condition in itself and which can’t be accounted for by another diagnosis, or where it is not the symptom of an underlying condition (this is known as chronic secondary pain). I find this definition most unsatisfactory. Pain is usually a symptom and not a disease. In many forms of what we now call CPP, an underlying disease does exist but might not yet be identifiable, I suspect.
The evidence on acupuncture considered for the draft NICE report included conditions like:
- neck pain,
- myofascial pain,
- radicular arm pain,
- shoulder pain,
- prostatitis pain,
- mechanical neck pain,
I find it debatable whether these pain syndromes can be categorised to be without an underlying diagnosis. Moreover, I find it problematic to lump them together as though they were one big entity.
The NICE draft document is huge and far too big to be assessed in a blog like mine. As it is merely a draft, I also see little point in evaluating it or parts of in detail. Therefore, my comments are far from detailed, very brief and merely focussed on pain (the draft NICE report considers several further outcome measures).
There is a separate document for acupuncture, from which I copy what I consider the key evidence:
Acupuncture versus sham acupuncture
Very low quality evidence from 13 studies with 1230 participants showed a clinically
important benefit of acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture at ≤3 months. Low quality
evidence from 2 studies with 159 participants showed a clinically important benefit of
acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture at ≤3 months.
Low quality evidence from 4 studies with 376 participants showed no clinically important
difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture at >3 months. Moderate quality
evidence from 2 studies with 159 participants showed a clinically important benefit of
acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture at >3 months. Low quality evidence from 1
study with 61 participants showed no clinically important difference between acupuncture
and sham acupuncture at >3 months.
As acupuncture has all the features that make a perfect placebo (slightly invasive, mildly painful, exotic, involves touch, time and attention), I see little point in evaluating its efficacy through studies that make no attempt to control for placebo effects. This is why the sham-controlled studies are central to the question of acupuncture’s efficacy, no matter for what condition.
Reading the above evidence carefully, I fail to see how NICE can conclude that CPP patients should be offered acupuncture. I am sure that some readers will disagree and am looking forward to reading their comments.
Non-specific chronic neck pain is a common condition. There is hardly a so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that is not advocated for it. Amongst the most common approaches are manual therapy and therapeutic exercise. But which is more effective?
This study was aimed at answering the question by comparing the effects of manual therapy and therapeutic exercise. The short-term and mid-term effects produced by the two therapies on subjects with non-specific chronic neck pain were studied. The sample was randomized into three groups:
- spinal manipulation (n=22),
- therapeutic exercise (n=23),
- sham treatment (n=20).
The therapists were physiotherapists. Patients were not allowed any other treatments that the ones they were allocated to. Pain quantified by visual analogue scale, the pressure pain threshold, and cervical disability quantified by the Neck Disability Index (NDI) were the outcome measures. They were registered on week 1, week 4, and week 12.
No statistically significant differences were obtained between the experimental groups. Spinal manipulation improved perceived pain quicker than therapeutic exercise. Therapeutic exercise reduced cervical disability quicker than spinal manipulation. Effect size showed medium and large effects for both experimental treatments.
The authors concluded that there are no differences between groups in short and medium terms. Manual therapy achieves a faster reduction in pain perception than therapeutic exercise. Therapeutic exercise reduces disability faster than manual therapy. Clinical improvement could potentially be influenced by central processes.
The paper is poorly written (why do editors accept this?) but it laudably includes detailed descriptions of the three different interventions:
Group 1: Manual therapy
“Manual therapy” protocol was composed of three techniques based on scientific evidence for the treatment of neck pain. This protocol was applied in the three treatment sessions, one per week.
- 1.High thoracic manipulation on T4. Patients are positioned supine with their arms crossed in a “V” shape over the chest. The therapist makes contact with the fist at the level of the spinous process of T4 and blocks the patient’s elbows with his chest. Following this, he introduces flexion of the cervical spine until a slight tension is felt in the tissues at the point of contact. Downward and cranial manipulation is applied. If cavitation is not achieved on the first attempt, the therapist repositions the patient and performs a second manipulation. A maximum of two attempts will be allowed in each patient.
- 2.Cervical articular mobilization (2 Hz, 2 min × 3 series). The patient is placed on the stretcher in a prone position, placing both hands under his forehead. The therapist makes contact with his two thumbs on the spinous process of the patient’s C2 vertebra and performs grade III posteroanterior impulses at a speed of 2 Hz and for 2 min. There are 3 mobilization intervals with a minute of rest between each one of them .
- 3.Suboccipital muscle inhibition (3 min). With the patient lying supine, the therapist places both hands under the subject’s head, by contacting their fingers on the lower edge of the occipital bone, and exerts constant and painless pressure in the anterior and cranial direction for 3 min.
Group 2: Therapeutic exercise
“Therapeutic exercise” protocol: this protocol is based on a progression in load composed of different phases: at first, activation and recruitment of deep cervical flexors; secondly, isometric exercise deep and superficial flexors co-contraction, and finally, eccentric recruitment of flexors and extensors. This protocol, as far as we know, has not been studied, but activation of this musculature during similar tasks to those of our protocol has been observed. This protocol was taught to patients in the first session and was performed once a day during the 3 weeks of treatment, 21 sessions in total. It was reinforced by the physiotherapist in each of the three individual sessions.
Week 1: Exercises 1 and 2.
- 1.Cranio-cervical flexion (CCF) in a supine position with a towel in the posterior area of the neck (3 sets, 10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction each repetition with 10 s of rest).
- 2.CCF sitting (3 sets, 10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction each repetition with 10 s of rest)
Week 2: Exercises 1, 2, 3, and 4.
- 3.Co-contraction of deep and superficial neck flexors in supine decubitus (10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction with 10 s of rest).
- 4.Co-contraction of flexors, rotators, and lateral flexors. The patients performed cranio-cervical flexion, while the physiotherapist asked him/her to tilt, rotate, and look towards the same side while he/she opposes a resistance with his/her hand (10 repetitions, 10 s of contraction with 10 s of rest).
Week 3: Exercises 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
- 5.Eccentric for extensors. With the patient seated, he/she should perform cervical extension. Then, he/she must realize a CCF and finish doing a cervical flexion (10 repetitions).
- 6.Eccentric for flexors. The patients, placed in a quadrupedal and neutral neck position, should perform neck flexion; then, they must have done a cranio-cervical flexion and, maintaining that posture, extend the neck and then finally lose the CCF (10 repetitions).
Group 3: Sham treatment
For the “control” protocol, the patients were placed in the supine position, while the physiotherapist placed his hands without therapeutic intention on the patient’s neck for 3 min. The physiotherapist simulated the technique of suboccipital inhibition. Later, with the laser pointer off, patients were contacted without exerting pressure for 10 s. Patients assigned to the control group received treatment 1 or 2 after completing the study.
This study has many strengths and several weaknesses (for instance the small sample sizes). Its results are not surprising. They confirm what I have been pointing out repeatedly, namely that, because exercise is cheaper and has less potential for harm, it is by far a better treatment for chronic neck pain than spinal manipulation.
Spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) is frequently used to manage cervicogenic headache (CGHA). No meta-analysis has investigated the effectiveness of SMT exclusively for CGHA.
The aim of this review was to evaluate the effectiveness of SMT for cervicogenic headache (CGHA). Seven RCTs were eligible. At short-term follow-up, there was a significant, small effect favouring SMT for pain intensity and small effects for pain frequency. There was no effect for pain duration. There was a significant, small effect favouring SMT for disability. At intermediate follow-up, there was no significant effects for pain intensity and a significant, small effect favouring SMT for pain frequency. At long-term follow-up, there was no significant effects for pain intensity and for pain frequency.
The authors concluded that for CGHA, SMT provides small, superior short-term benefits for pain intensity, frequency and disability but not pain duration, however, high-quality evidence in this field is lacking. The long-term impact is not significant.
This meta-analysis can be criticised for a long list of reasons, the most serious of which, in my view, is that it is bar of even the tiniest critical input. The authors state that there has been no previous meta-analysis on this topic. This might be true, but there has been a systematic review of it (published in the leading journal on the subject) which the authors fail to mention/cite (I wonder why!). It is from 2011 and happens to be one of mine. Here is its abstract:
The objective of this systematic review was to assess the effectiveness of spinal manipulations as a treatment option for cervicogenic headaches. Seven databases were searched from their inception to February 2011. All randomized trials which investigated spinal manipulations performed by any type of healthcare professional for treating cervicogenic headaches in human subjects were considered. The selection of studies, data extraction, and validation were performed independently by 2 reviewers. Nine randomized clinical trials (RCTs) met the inclusion criteria. Their methodological quality was mostly poor. Six RCTs suggested that spinal manipulation is more effective than physical therapy, gentle massage, drug therapy, or no intervention. Three RCTs showed no differences in pain, duration, and frequency of headaches compared to placebo, manipulation, physical therapy, massage, or wait list controls. Adequate control for placebo effect was achieved in 1 RCT only, and this trial showed no benefit of spinal manipulations beyond a placebo effect. The majority of RCTs failed to provide details of adverse effects. There are few rigorous RCTs testing the effectiveness of spinal manipulations for treating cervicogenic headaches. The results are mixed and the only trial accounting for placebo effects fails to be positive. Therefore, the therapeutic value of this approach remains uncertain.
The key points here are:
- methodological quality of the primary studies was mostly poor;
- adequate control for placebo effect was achieved in 1 RCT only;
- this trial showed no benefit of SMT beyond a placebo effect;
- the majority of RCTs failed to provide details of adverse effects;
- this means they violate research ethics and should be discarded as not trustworthy;
- the therapeutic value of SMT remains uncertain.
The new paper was published by chiropractors. Its positive result is not clinically relevant, almost certainly due to residual bias and confounding in the primary studies, and thus most likely false-positive. The conclusions seem to disclose more the bias of the review authors than the truth. Considering the risks of SMT of the upper spine (a subject not even mentioned by the authors), I cannot see that the risk/benefit balance of this treatment is positive. It follows, I think, that other, less risky and more effective treatments are to be preferred for CGHA.