The Effectiveness of Auricular Acupuncture as a Treatment for Stress and Anxiety: Pilot Study Feedback

At CalmPoint, my acupuncture business, we undertook a little pilot study towards the end of last year. The aim of this pilot research study was to assess the effectiveness of auricular (ear) acupuncture as a treatment for stress and anxiety. I’m happy to say that I now have some feedback from the pilot study. I have been very fortunate to have had assistance looking at and analysing the data from an academic and lecturer from the Psychology Department at Strathclyde University.

In summary, acupuncture treatments were carried out by me over a four week period in my clinical practice based in Paisley. Tiny acupuncture needles were inserted into specific points on each ear and participants were encouraged to sit quietly for the 20 minute duration of the treatment.

auricular treatment close up (400x267)

Unfortunately, the numbers taking part in the study were far too small to provide statistically significant or meaningful analysis of the acupuncture treatments. Also, some participants had to leave the study early due to ill health (mainly flu virus & migraine) and this change in numbers also affected the ability to meaningfully analyse the data. However, although there was no statistically significant difference between the treatment groups (ie those receiving acupuncture treatment vs those receiving a placebo acupuncture treatment), the data does provide very useful information to help inform my future research studies.

The good news is that there was a difference in stress levels for everyone taking part – stress levels reduced significantly regardless of which treatment they had or which treatment group they were in (group treatment or 1-2-1). For research/statistically-minded people the p-value was p<0.001. For non-statistically-minded people that’s quite a big improvement! Some participants’ stress scores came down by more than half 🙂 … though perhaps not such good news for me as I was hoping that the study would show that it was the acupuncture that reduced the stress levels… 😉 Here are some of the comments participants made on their feedback forms at the end of the four week study:

“I can definitely report feeling more calm and more in control of my emotions. I have had situations over the last few weeks which would normally see me nearing breakdown, but I’ve managed to be calm and rational and able to relax”

“I still felt calm and relaxed – even when I was cooking and feeding 12 people on Christmas day – I would normally have high stress levels.”

“For the first time in a long time my Christmas was happy”

There are so many variables that can influence the results of research studies like this, not least the very subjective perception of stress levels. However, I’m more than happy that participants’ stress scores changed so significantly – especially in the busy four weeks leading up to Christmas. Just by volunteering to take part in the study, thinking about and having an awareness of their stress levels in order to ‘score’ them each week for the study did have a significant and positive impact on how participants felt and how they scored their stress levels over time. My experience tells me that this is that happens when people do stop and pay attention to how they are responding/ reacting to life and situations around them – that pause creates a space for new ways of coping, thinking and feeling to make themselves known. Even something as simple as taking a little time out to be still and just breathe… helps tremendously. So I would most definitely encourage participants and everyone else(!) to keep doing that.

relaxed

So, in summary then, the numbers were far too small to say anything about the acupuncture treatment – whether it worked or didn’t work. What the data does tell us is that everyone who took part felt less stressed whilst taking part in the study.

My plan is to conduct a bigger research study later in the year with assistance from Strathclyde University. Studies like this are particularly (notoriously….) difficult to carry out. The gold standard would be a ‘double-blind’ study where neither the participant nor the acupuncturist know which treatment is being given and which group is being treated. This is definitely going to prove a challenge in future studies we carry out and I’m not so sure that it’s possible do this as a completely double-blind study.

I’d like to personally thank everyone who volunteered to take part and those who did take some time out during that busy time of year to assist me with my research. Personally, I was in my element as it is so important to me that the treatments I provide are effective. The results of this little pilot study have given me lots to think about and given me some challenges for future studies!

If you would like more information about the study and/or the data analysis please don’t hesitate to contact me.

You can find out more about acupuncture and auricular (ear) acupuncture on my CalmPoint website at www.calmpoint.co.uk.