Weekly acupuncture appears to improve dyspnea on exertion and several other outcomes in patients with COPD, according to Masao Suzuki, LAc, PhD, from the Meiji University of Integrative Medicine, Japan, and colleagues.
“Acupuncture is well-known to reduce muscle soreness or stiffness and is widely applied for musculoskeletal symptoms,” Suzuki told Pulmonary Reviews. “We applied acupuncture on the fatigued respiratory muscles of [COPD] patients, which resulted in improvement in their dyspnea.”
Their study, published in the June 11 Archives of internal Medicine, included 68 patients with the disease from four hospitals in the Kansai region of Japan. Half of the patients were randomized to a real acupuncture group (RAG) and the other half to a placebo acupuncture group (PAG). During the patients’ weekly treatments, 11 real or placebo needles were delivered to points in the neck, upper torso, abdomen, wrists, back, legs, and ankles. The real needles were inserted 5 to 25 mm and rotated for three to four minutes; the placebo needles had blunt tips that appeared to penetrate the skin but actually telescoped back into place.
Compared with patients in the PAG, patients in the RAG showed greater improvements from baseline to 12 weeks in dyspnea following the six-minute walk test (6MWT)—the study’ primary outcome. On a modified 10-point Borg scale, with higher scores indicating worse dyspnea, patients in the RAG improved by a mean of -3.6, while patients in the PAG worsened by a mean of 0.4.
Patients in the RAG also showed significantly greater improvements in 6MWT distance, oxygen saturation during 6MWT, quality of life, nutritional status, arterial blood gas, range of motion in the rib cage, and respiratory function. Changes in FEV1 did not reach statistical significance, however.
“Dyspnea is the most important symptom of COPD patients, as it predicts prognosis, and management of dyspnea is of the highest priority in COPD guidelines,” Suzuki noted. “Acupuncture, therefore, may have the potential to improve the prognosis and quality of life of these patients.”