Electroacupuncture Is Not Effective in Chronic Painful Neuropathies


Paola Penza, MD, Neuromuscular Disease Unit, IRCCS Foundation, “Carlo Besta” Neurological Institute, Via Celoria, 11, Milan 20133, Italy. Tel: 39-02-2394-4018; Fax: 39-02-2394-4057; E-mail: paola.penza@istituto-besta.it.


Objective.  To investigate the analgesic efficacy of electroacupuncture (EA) in patients with chronic painful neuropathy.

Design.  Double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study. Inclusion criteria were diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy, neuropathic pain (visual analog scale > 4) for at least 6 months, and stable analgesic medications for at least 3 months.

Patients.  Sixteen patients were randomized into two arms to be treated with EA or pseudo-EA (placebo).

Interventions.  The protocol included 6 weeks of treatment, 12 weeks free of treatment, and then further 6 weeks of treatment. EA or pseudo-EA was performed weekly during each treatment period.

Outcome Measures.  The primary outcome was the number of patients treated with EA achieving at least 50% of pain relief at the end of each treatment compared with pain intensity at baseline. Secondary outcomes were modification in patient's global impression of change, depression and anxiety, and quality of life.

Results.  Eleven patients were randomized to EA and five patients to pseudo-EA as the first treatment.

Only one patient per group (EA and pseudo-EA) reported 50% of pain relief at the end of each treatment compared with pain intensity at baseline. Pain intensity did not differ between EA (5.7 ± 2.3 at baseline and 4.97 ± 3.23 after treatment) and pseudo-EA (4.9 ± 1.9 at baseline and 4.18 ± 2.69 after treatment). There was no difference between patients who received EA as the first treatment and patients initially treated with placebo. There was no change in the secondary outcomes.

Conclusions.  Our results do not support the use of EA in this population of painful neuropathy patients. Further studies in larger groups of patients are warranted to confirm our observation.