Acupuncture for shoulder pain

Evidence Summaries

Level of Evidence = C
There is insufficient evidence on acupuncture in shoulder pain. It may have little effect on pain in short term.

A Cochrane review 1 included nine studies of varying methodological quality. For all trials there was poor description of interventions. Varying placebos were used in the different trials. Two trials assessed short-term success (post intervention) of acupuncture for rotator cuff disease and could be combined in meta analysis. There was no significant difference in short-term improvement associated with acupuncture when compared to placebo, but due to small sample sizes this may be explained by Type II error. Acupuncture was of benefit over placebo in improving the Constant Murley Score (a measure of shoulder function) at four weeks (WMD 17.3 (7.79, 26.81)). However, by four months, the difference between the acupuncture and placebo groups, whilst still statistically significant, was no longer likely to be clinically significant (WMD 3.53 (0.74, 6.32)). The Constant Murley Score is graded out of 100, hence a change of 3.53 is unlikely to be of substantial benefit. The results of a small pilot study demonstrated some benefit of both traditional and ear acupuncture plus mobilization over mobilization alone. There was no difference in adverse events related to acupuncture when compared to placebo, however this was assessed by only one trial.


1. Green S, Buchbinder R, Hetrick S. Acupuncture for shoulder pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005 Apr 18;(2):CD005319.  [PMID:15846753]

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