Acupuncture might be able to provide short-term relief from tennis elbow, but more research is needed.
There is insufficient evidence to either support or refute the use of acupuncture (either needle or laser) in the treatment of lateral elbow pain. This review has demonstrated needle acupuncture to be of short term benefit with respect to pain, but this finding is based on the results of 2 small trials, the results of which were not able to be combined in meta-analysis. No benefit lasting more than 24 hours following treatment has been demonstrated. No trial assessed or commented on potential adverse effect. Further trials, utilising appropriate methods and adequate sample sizes, are needed before conclusions can be drawn regarding the effect of acupuncture on tennis elbow.
This review is one in a series of reviews of interventions for lateral elbow pain. Lateral elbow pain, or tennis elbow, is a common condition causing pain in the elbow and forearm and lack of strength and function of the elbow and wrist. Acupuncture has long been used to treat lateral elbow pain in China and in Western countries practitioners and consumers are increasingly exploring acupuncture as a first line treatment for musculoskeletal disorders. No previous systematic review of the available evidence has been conducted to determine whether acupuncture is efficacious in the treatment lateral elbow pain.
To determine the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of adults with lateral elbow pain with respect to pain reduction, improvement in function, grip strength and adverse effects.
We searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE and SCISEARCH and the Cochrane Clinical Trials Register and the Musculoskeletal Review Group's specialist trial database from 1966 to June 2001. Identified keywords and authors were searched in an effort to retrieve as many trials as possible.
Two independent reviewers assessed all identified trials against pre-determined inclusion criteria. Randomised and pseudo randomised trials in all languages were included in the review provided they were testing acupuncture compared to placebo or another intervention in adults with lateral elbow pain (tennis elbow). Outcomes of interest were pain, function, disability, quality of life, strength, participant satisfaction with treatment and adverse effect.
For continuous variables means and standard deviations were extracted or imputed to allow the analysis of weighted mean difference, while for binary data numbers of events and total population were analysed and interpreted as relative risks. Trial results were combined only in the absence of clinical and statistical heterogeneity.
Four small randomized controlled trials were included but due to flaws in study designs (particularly small populations, uncertain allocation concealment and substantial loss to follow up) and clinical differences between trials, data from trials could not be combined in a meta-analysis. One randomised controlled trial found that needle acupuncture results in relief of pain for significantly longer than placebo (WMD = 18.8 hours, 95%CI 10.1 to 27.5) and is more likely to result in a 50% or greater reduction in pain after 1 treatment (RR 0.33, 95%CI 0.16 to 0.69) (Molsberger 1994) . A second randomized controlled trial demonstrated needle acupuncture to be more likely to result in overall participant reported improvement than placebo in the short term (RR = 0.09 95% CI 0.01 to 0.64) (Haker 1990a) . No significant differences were found in the longer term (after 3 or 12 months). A randomized controlled trial of laser acupuncture versus placebo demonstrated no differences between laser acupuncture and placebo with respect to overall benefit (Haker 1990b). A fourth included trial published in Chinese demonstrated no difference between Vitamin B12 injection plus acupuncture, and Vitamin B12 injection alone (Wang 1997).