Purpose: Women are disproportionately affected by chronic pain and chronic stress, both of which represent significant public health problems. Chronic pain and stress often co-occur which can exacerbate the deleterious effects of each. Conventional treatment modalities (SSRIs, analgesics) have potentially serious side effects, especially when taken long term. The purpose of this study was to assess objective (including biomarkers) and subjective assessment of pain and stress improvement in women over an 8-week course of acupuncture treatment.Methods: Study design: Case series of 3 women. Enrollment criteria: 3 women (ages 30-65) recruited from large acupuncture practice. Must report: 1) consistent pain for 3+ months, 2) Visual Analog Pain Scale (VAPS) >6, 3) Cohen Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) >21. Protocol: 3 women assessed, treated, and prospectively followed weekly for 8 weeks. TCM principles and differential diagnoses were employed. Individualized treatments were used; needles were left in place for 30 min, with de qi. At baseline, week 4, and week 8, diurnal cortisol (8am and 4pm) was assessed (buccal swab) and CBC (for ESR) and CRP were evaluated based on blood analysis. Patient-centered measures were evaluated weekly.
Results: All women reported subjective improvements in pain and reduction of stress (self-report VAPS, PSS). Several patient-centered measures trended in appropriate direction. Biomarker measures were more stable, although suggestive (reduction in inflammatory markers, modified diurnal cortisol patterns).
Conclusions: This small case-series pilot study demonstrated clinical and patient-centered improvements in pain and stress reduction and suggestive biomarker findings. Implications for clinical practice and future research designs will be discussed.