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Open Access Research

The effectiveness of acupuncture research across components of the trauma spectrum response (tsr): a systematic review of reviews

Courtney Lee1*, Cindy Crawford1, Dawn Wallerstedt1, Alexandra York1, Alaine Duncan2, Jennifer Smith1, Meredith Sprengel1, Richard Welton1 and Wayne Jonas1

Author Affiliations

1 Samueli Institute, 1737 King Street, Suite 600, Alexandria, VA, USA

2 Integrative Healing, 8505 Fenton Street, Suite 202, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

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Systematic Reviews 2012, 1:46  doi:10.1186/2046-4053-1-46

Published: 15 October 2012

Abstract

Background

Co-morbid symptoms (for example, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and fatigue) are particularly common in military fighters returning from the current conflicts, who have experienced physical and/or psychological trauma. These overlapping conditions cut across the boundaries of mind, brain and body, resulting in a common symptomatic and functional spectrum of physical, cognitive, psychological and behavioral effects referred to as the ‘Trauma Spectrum Response’ (TSR). While acupuncture has been shown to treat some of these components effectively, the current literature is often difficult to interpret, inconsistent or of variable quality. Thus, to gauge comprehensively the effectiveness of acupuncture across TSR components, a systematic review of reviews was conducted using the Samueli Institute’s Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Literature (REAL©) methodology.

Methods

PubMed/MEDLINE, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, EMBASE, CINAHL, and PsycInfo were searched from inception to September 2011 for systematic reviews/meta-analyses. Quality assessment was rigorously performed using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN 50) checklist and the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology. Adherence to the Standards for Reporting Interventions in Clinical Trials in Acupuncture (STRICTA) criteria was also assessed.

Results

Of the 1,480 citations identified by our searches, 52 systematic reviews/meta-analyses, all high quality except for one, met inclusion criteria for each TSR component except post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sexual function. The majority of reviews addressed most STRICTA components, but did not describe safety.

Conclusions

Based on the results of our review, acupuncture appears to be effective for treating headaches and, although more research is needed, seems to be a promising treatment option for anxiety, sleep disturbances, depression and chronic pain. It does not, however, demonstrate any substantial treatment benefit for substance abuse. Because there were no reviews on PTSD or sexual function that met our pre-defined inclusion criteria, we cannot comment on acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating these conditions. More quality data are also needed to determine whether acupuncture is appropriate for treating fatigue or cognitive difficulties. Further, while acupuncture has been shown to be generally safe, safety was not described in the majority of studies, making it difficult to provide any strong recommendations. Future research should address safety reporting in detail in order to increase our confidence in acupuncture’s efficacy across the identified TSR components.

Keywords:
Acupuncture; Trauma Spectrum Response; Systematic review of reviews; Rapid evidence assessment of the literature (REAL©)