STUDY PROTOCOLOpen Access
Effects of acupuncture on patients with
fibromyalgia: study protocol of a multicentre
randomized controlled trial
Jorge Vas1*, Manuela Modesto1, Inmaculada Aguilar1, Koldo Santos-Rey1, Nicolás Benítez-Parejo2,3,
Background: Fibromyalgia is a multidimensional disorder for which treatment as yet remains unsatisfactory.
Studies of an acupuncture-based approach, despite its broad acceptance among patients and healthcare staff, have
not produced sufficient evidence of its effectiveness in treating this syndrome. The present study aims to evaluate
the effectiveness of individualized acupuncture for patients with fibromyalgia, with respect to reducing their pain
and level of incapacity, and improving their quality of life.
Methods/design: Randomized controlled multicentre study, with 156 outpatients, aged over 17 years, diagnosed
with fibromyalgia according to American College of Rheumatology criteria, either alone or associated with severe
depression, according to the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. The participants
will be randomly assigned to receive either “True acupuncture” or “Sham acupuncture”. They will be evaluated
using a specific measurement system, constituted of the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire and the Hamilton
rating scale for depression. Also taken into consideration will be the clinical and subjective pain intensity, the
patient’s family structure and relationships, psychological aspects, quality of life, the duration of previous temporary
disability, the consumption of antidepressant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication, and the potential effect
of factors considered to be predictors of a poor prognosis. All these aspects will be examined by questionnaires
and other suitably-validated instruments. The results obtained will be analysed at 10 weeks, and 6 and 12 months
from the start of treatment.
Discussion: This trial will utilize high quality trial methodologies in accordance with CONSORT guidelines. It may
provide evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment for fibromyalgia either alone or associated
with severe depression.
Trial registration: ISRCTN trial number ISRCTN60217348 (19 October 2010)
The etiopathogeny of fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS)
remains unknown, although current hypotheses centre
on anomalous peripheral nociception caused by wind-
up, central sensitivization, high levels of substance P and
neurotrophins, and alterations to the hypothalamus-
hypophysis-adrenal axis [1,2].
It is a multidimensional disorder, with currently poor
therapeutic results. Despite the considerable increase in
the number of studies published from 2000 to 2010,
current treatment protocols are still unable to resolve
the persistent symptoms experienced or improve the
functional limitations and quality of life of these
The prevalence of FMS among the Spanish population
has been estimated at 2.7%, but at 4.2% for women and
0.2% for men . Factors that may raise the risk of FMS
include middle age, early school leaving and low family
* Correspondence: email@example.com
1Pain Treatment Unit, “Doña Mercedes” Primary Health Care Centre, Dos
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
© 2011 Vas et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Levels of anxiety and depression among patients with
musculoskeletal pain are known to be related to FMS
; thus, the prevalence of patients with FMS and
severe depression varies from 20-80% .
Pharmacological treatment continues to be the chief
treatment option; in this respect, an important role is
played by tricyclic antidepressants, which have a direct
effect on the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine,
thus improving sleep patterns and alleviating depression,
stress and anxiety, as well as inhibiting pain pathways
and recognition , although they have only been
proved to be moderately effective [8,9]. Studies with
new dual serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
have produced promising preliminary results [10-12]. In
addition, pregabalin has produced improvements, in
comparison to a placebo, with respect to the treatment
of pain, asthenia and sleep disorders among patients
with FMS , and the combination of paracetamol
and tramadol has also been found to be beneficial
[14,15]. These approaches, thus, are opening up new
possibilities in the pharmacological treatment of FMS
syndrome. New contributions to our understanding of
the etiopathogenic mechanism of FMS are orienting
treatment toward improving central sensitivization, for
example via antagonists of N-Methyl-D-aspartate
(NMDA) receptors .
Non-pharmacological options include aerobic exercise,
and muscle toning and stretching [3,17], which activate
anti-nociceptive mechanisms and achieve pain reduc-
tion. There is moderate evidence that aerobic exercise is
more beneficial than flexibilization, but no evidence that
any one type of exercise is superior to another .
Cognitive-behavioural therapy has proved to be effective
for alleviating symptoms and pain-related behavioural
disorders, by improving central sensitization and activat-
ing anti-nociceptive mechanisms [19,20].
Acupuncture has been used as a treatment option in
China for over 2000 years  and is increasingly
accepted in the West, where its use has become consid-
erably more common in recent decades, especially for
pathologies producing high levels of pain [22,23], and
thus it has been suggested as a remedy for FMS [23,24].
According to traditional Chinese medicine, FMS
results from an imbalance that blocks or exhausts a per-
son’s internal energy (Qi) and the flow of blood, giving
rise to the appearance of the symptoms that are charac-
teristic of this syndrome [25,26].
Despite the broad acceptance of acupuncture among
patients and healthcare staff, the studies conducted to
date have not produced sufficient evidence of its effec-
tiveness in treating FMS , although the latest sys-
tematic reviews have shown these studies to be of low
quality [17,28,29]. Since the last of these published
reviews, in June 2004 , various other studies, of
higher quality, have been conducted, but the results they
report are uneven, and thus little light is shed upon the
role of acupuncture in treating FMS. One well-designed
study  randomised 100 FMS patients into among
four groups (one given true acupuncture, and the other
three, sham acupuncture), with two sessions per week
being given for 12 weeks. No differences were found
among any of the outcome measures, but this is not
surprising, as the authors used a standard prescription
of acupuncture points, which is not the correct proce-
dure . Similar results have been found in another
study, also well designed, which concluded that the level
of analgesia attained is independent of the location of
the acupuncture needles . On the contrary, another
well-designed study  obtained positive results on
comparing real acupuncture with a placebo in terms of
relieving pain, asthenia and anxiety, with a reduction of
7 points on the scale of the Fibromyalgia Impact Ques-
tionnaire. Another study, carried out in 2008, also
reported a reduction in pain intensity and an improve-
ment in quality of life, three months after acupuncture
treatment was applied to a group of FMS patients, in
comparison with tricyclic antidepressant treatment and
exercise . Acupuncture appears to be both safe and
effective in treating depression, and is comparable with
antidepressant treatment .
In view of these data, we designed this randomized
controlled multicentre study of FMS patients, with the
aim of determining the effectiveness of traditional acu-
puncture, using a point-selection algorithm established
on the basis of the particular characteristics of each
patient (seeking to reproduce standard clinical practice),
and evaluating the progression of the illness using a
specific measurement system, following OMERACT
recommendations , and evaluating levels of depres-
sion, clinical and subjective pain intensity, the family
life cycle, psychological aspects, quality of life, the dura-
tion of short-term disability, the consumption of anti-
depressant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication,
and the potential effect of factors considered to be pre-
dictors of a poor prognosis .
The primary objective of the trial is to evaluate the
effectiveness, in terms of pain reduction (measured on a
0-100 mm visual analogue scale) achieved at 10 weeks
after beginning treatment. The secondary objectives of
the trial are 1) to evaluate the effectiveness, in terms of
reducing levels of depression (measured on the Hamil-
ton scale, HAMD) at 10 weeks and 6 months after
beginning treatment; 2) to evaluate the effectiveness, in
terms of improvement measured by the Fibromyalgia
Impact Questionnaire (FIQ), at 10 weeks, and 6 and
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
Page 2 of 11
12 months after beginning treatment, with respect to
both the overall value and the subscales of physical
function, tiredness, depression and anxiety; 3) to evalu-
ate the effectiveness in terms of reduced pain intensity
(measured on a 0-100 mm visual analogue scale) at 6
and 12 months after beginning treatment; 4) to evaluate
the effectiveness in terms of improvement perceived by
the FMS patient at the end of the treatment; 5) to evalu-
ate the effects on duration of the incapacity for work;
6) to analyse the number and the threshold of tender
points perceived by FMS patients, and the changes
in this respect after treatment; 7) to evaluate the effec-
tiveness in terms of reduced consumption of anti-
depressant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication;
8) to describe the family structure, the relation among
family members and the family life cycle of FMS
patients (genogram); 9) to evaluate the effectiveness in
terms of improved health-related quality of life (SF 12);
10) to evaluate the cost-benefit aspect of acupuncture
treatment for FMS patients.
Acupuncture is capable of reducing the pain felt by
patients with fibromyalgia (FMS), whether in simple
form or associated with severe depression, to a greater
degree than is sham acupuncture. Furthermore, the
application of this technique raises the patient’s sense of
wellbeing, reduces levels of depression, alleviates dys-
function, enhances health-related quality of life and
moderates the consumption of drugs used in conven-
tional treatment, thus reducing the negative effects pro-
duced by treatment without itself producing any
clinically important iatrogeny.
Controlled multicentre prospective study, with random
assignation to receive individualized acupuncture
(according to traditional practice and individual diagno-
sis) or sham acupuncture (control group) with a 1:1
allocation ratio (Figure 1). Patients will be stratified
according to level of depression and by treatment cen-
tre, and will be blinded to both types of treatment. The
evaluation of patients and the analysis of results will be
performed by professionals blinded to the assignation of
October 2010 - December 2013. At present, no patients
have been recruited.
Setting and participants
Outpatients, aged over 17 years, referred by their GPs to
one of three primary healthcare centres participating in
the study, and belonging to the Andalusian Public
Health System. These will be patients diagnosed with
FMS according to the criteria of the American College
of Rheumatology (ACR) , and who have not pre-
viously received acupuncture treatment. The Hamilton
scale (HAMD) will be used to stratify the patients into
two sub-groups (cut-off point: 21), with or without
The patients will be informed as follows: “This study
will compare two types of acupuncture. One of them is
similar to traditional Chinese acupuncture. The other
does not follow these principles, but both types have
been associated with positive results in different clinical
studies”. The patients will also be informed of the possi-
ble risks associated with the different types of acupunc-
ture (infection, fainting or bruising) and that they may
conclude their participation in the study at any time,
without suffering any penalty or loss of benefits to
which they would otherwise be entitled.
Any patient suffering pain for any reason other than
FMS, or using anticoagulants or opiates, or who is preg-
nant or a nursing mother, or who is involved in occupa-
tional litigation for reasons involving FMS, will be
excluded from this study.
The sample size is set at n = 56 patients in each group,
for a significance level of 5%, a power of 90% and a dif-
ference in the mean pain intensity - according to 0-100
mm VAS - between the real and the sham acupuncture
groups of 20.2 points, assuming equal variances (stan-
dard deviation = 32.4 points), taking into account the
results of an earlier pilot experiment, carried out from
April to December 2008. Assuming a dropout rate of
25%, the sample size will thus be n = 75 for each group
(n = 78 to adjust by strata). These calculations were per-
formed using the SamplePower 2 program .
Recruitment of patients
The patients are referred by their GPs, in the areas
where the study is performed. We have designed a data-
compilation form containing the variables of interest,
and this will be completed by the corresponding
researcher at each centre. At each centre, the informa-
tion obtained will be recorded on an electronic database,
for subsequent statistical analysis.
The randomisation of the two branches of this study
will be performed in a centralised way, allocating the
participants with stratification by centre and depression
diagnosis and blocking following a 1:1 allocation ratio.
The healthcare professionals participating in the study
will not take part in the randomisation process. Those
patients who meet the criteria for inclusion and who
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
Page 3 of 11
provide written informed consent will be included in the
study. Following their inclusion, the researcher will con-
tact the randomisation centre where the patient is regis-
tered, and the physician will be informed, by telephone
and by fax, of the patient’s assignation to one of the two
study branches. This procedure ensures that the rando-
misation is not influenced by the researchers taking part
in this study.
Evaluation of T3 follow-up (12 months after start of treatment)
Patients with fibromyalgia referred by their GPs
Check inclusion criteria and offer the study
Agree to participate
- Not meeting inclusion criteria
- Refusing to participate
Allocated to Real AcupunctureAllocated to Sham Acupuncture
9 treatment sessions (one per week)
Final evaluation of results (10 weeks after start of treatment)
Evaluation of T2 follow-up (6 months after start of treatment)
Figure 1 Flow diagram for the study. Work scheme with description of assessment visits and times.
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
Page 4 of 11
The patients taking part in the study will each receive
nine acupuncture sessions (one per week), either real or
sham, as follows:
a) Real acupuncture: Individualised acupuncture,
using single-use sterile needles of diverse calibres and
lengths. Guidelines have been agreed regarding the
selection of points (Table 1). The physician will perform
Table 1 Procedure agreed upon for the selection of acupuncture points*
Basic syndrome SupineProne
Liver-Spleen disharmonyLI4 ↓
Yin Deficiency and Empty HeatAdd KI6Add BL23
Spleen and Kidney Yang Deficiency Add ST36 Add BL23
Kidney Yin and Yang DeficiencyAdd CV6Add 52V
Rising Liver Fire Replace LR3 with LR2Replace BL18 with LR2
Phlegm Add ST40
Wet HeatAdd SP9 Add LI11
Stomach and intestinesAdd ST25Add BL25 or BL21
Bladder Add CV3Add BL28
GenitalsAdd CV2 Add BL31
Associated pruritisAdd LR5
Blood StasisAdd SP10Add BL17
Inhibited sexual desireGV4
Severe generalised painSP21
Temporoparietal headache Taiyang
Neck pain GB20
Pain in the hip/trochanterGB30
*: Standard acupuncture points for treatment of these symptoms .
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
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a prior diagnosis, in accordance with the principles of
Traditional Chinese Medicine, before selecting the
points for the treatment session, taking note of the diag-
nosis, the acupuncture points selected and the techni-
The treatment will be performed after sterilizing the
skin on the areas where the needles will be inserted, and
with the patient lying face up or face down. A vertical
puncture will be made, unless otherwise indicated, to the
depth predetermined for each point (normally between
8-30 mm, depending on the location of the point). Fol-
lowing insertion, stimulation of the acupuncture point
will be performed using of bidirectional rotation of the
needle sleeve, to achieve the sensation known as Deqi,
which is commonly described as a ‘glowing’ feeling. The
needle will be maintained in place for 20 minutes, with
bidirectional rotation of the needle sleeve (with ampli-
tude and rotation speed as stipulated previously) for one
minute, every five minutes (a total of four such rotations
per session). Following the treatment session, the needles
will be withdrawn. Before each session, the physician will
re-evaluate the patient to determine whether his/her clin-
ical situation has changed; if so, the selection of acupunc-
ture points will be reconsidered.
B) Sham acupuncture: With the patient lying face
down, the insertion of needles into the back and lower
back will be simulated. This is a technique, validated
previously , in which, after sterilization of the sur-
rounding skin, a momentary pressure is exerted using a
plastic guide tube through the centre of which a blunt
steel rod is inserted, producing the sensation that a
puncture has been made, at each of the following points.
This plastic guide tube will be presented in containers
identical to those used for the real acupuncture group.
The patient should remain face down for the 20 minutes
of the session, so that the placebo technique remains
concealed. Every five minutes, the physician applying
the treatment will repeat the action at the corresponding
eight points (which are not acupuncture points ):
1. Located bilaterally at 1 cm from the spinal apo-
physis of T3
2. Located bilaterally at 1 cm from the spinal apo-
physis of T5
3. Located bilaterally at 1 cm from the spinal apo-
physis of L2
4. Located bilaterally at 1 cm from the spinal apo-
physis of L5
The same time will be dedicated to the patients in
each of the treatment groups; similarly, the time
employed for the pre and post-session evaluations will
be identical in every case. The healthcare personnel
applying the different acupuncture treatments have
received at least 300 hours training in the field and have
over three years practical experience. All adverse reac-
tions or side effects that may occur will be recorded in
the Data Record Book, with a detailed account of the
circumstances and the date of occurrence. No relative
or other person accompanying the patients in this study
will be allowed to enter the treatment room.
The data required for evaluating the effectiveness of the
treatment will be collected at baseline and 10 weeks, 6
and 12 months after the intervention has begun, for
both groups. Data will be obtained via interviews, self-
applied questionnaires, and physical measurements.
Data collection instruments and the study timeline are
summarised in Table 2.
A data collection form has been designed, to include
the variables of interest, which will be completed by the
corresponding researcher at each centre. At each centre,
the information obtained will be recorded on an electro-
nic database, for subsequent statistical analysis.
The baseline values (T0), those for the results after
10 weeks (T1) and the follow-up results at 6 and
12 months (T2 and T3) will be determined by evaluators
who are blinded to the treatment assignation groups.
These same evaluators will provide any necessary assis-
tance regarding the self-administered questionnaires.
The Hamilton scale will be applied by specialists in the
field, who will also be blinded to the treatment assigna-
Changes in pain intensity, measured on a visual analo-
gue scale, at the end of treatment. The construction
validity and reliability of this scale have been proven in
previous studies [41-43]. The scale measures a continu-
ous quantitative variable varying from 0 (absence of
pain) to 100 (the worst pain imaginable).
- Changes in levels of depression, measured on the
Hamilton hetero-evaluation scale, at the end of
treatment and after 6 months. This scale is of pro-
ven discriminant validity, reliability, and sensitivity
to change; moreover, it has been validated for use in
Spain . It consists of 17 items. Each question has
from three to five possible responses, with scores
varying from 0-2 to 0-4, respectively. The total score
varies from 0-52. To evaluate the response to treat-
ment, a full response is defined as a reduction of
50% or more in the initial score obtained on the
scale; a partial response is taken as a reduction of
25-49%, and absence of response is defined as a
reduction of less than 25%. Remission is considered
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
Page 6 of 11
to have been achieved with a score of 7 or less,
although according to some studies this cut-off
point should be lower .
- Changes in the overall indicator value and in the
different subscales of the Spanish version of the
Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire , at the end
of treatment (10 weeks after the start), and at 6 and
12 months from the start of treatment. This is a
self-administered questionnaire that measures the
aspects of health most affected by FMS during the
previous week . It is comprised of ten items,
with three questions valued on a Likert scale, and a
further seven questions valued on a visual analogue
scale, varying from 0 to 10, with the higher scores
reflecting a greater negative impact or more severe
- Changes in pain intensity on a visual analogue
scale, measured at the end of treatment, and at 6
and 12 months after beginning treatment.
- Changes in the pain threshold and number of ten-
der points detected by experienced evaluators,
assigned one per centre and non-interchangeable,
using a digital pressure algometer with a contact
point of 1 cm2(NIDEC SHIMPO - FGE-100 X -
Digital Force Gauge). The pressure applied is 1 kg/s
at each of the 18 tender points specified . The
patients will be asked to tell the researcher when the
sensation of pressure changes to one of pain. From
all of these pain points, a mean threshold will be cal-
culated. Normal subjects begin to perceive pain at a
pressure of 4 kg . The baseline measurements
will be compared with those obtained at the end of
treatment, and after 6 and 12 months.
- Improvement perceived by the patient , mea-
sured on a seven-point Likert scale. “How satisfied
are you with your recent treatment for fibromyal-
gia?” 1 = Extremely satisfied; 2 = Very satisfied; 3 =
Moderately satisfied; 4 = Indifferent (an approxi-
mately equal degree of satisfaction and dissatisfac-
tion); 5 = Moderately dissatisfied; 6 = Very
dissatisfied; 7 = Extremely dissatisfied.
- Changes in patient’s health-related quality of life,
according to the SF-12 Version 2 Questionnaire.
This is a generic questionnaire, derived from SF-36,
and validated for Spain . Version 2 enables the
researcher to calculate the patient’s quality of life in
eight dimensions (physical function, physical role,
pain, general health, vitality, social function, emo-
tional role and mental health) and two summary
components (physical and mental), scale 0-100;
lower scores indicate poorer quality of life.
- Consumption of medication. Anti-depressant,
analgesic and NSAIDs medication consumed
(whether or not prescribed by the patient’s doctor)
at the moment of randomisation and at follow up
(at each treatment session, at the end of treatment
and at 6 and 12 months), measured on a four-point
Likert scale: 0 = no medication; 1 = less than the
usual dose; 2 = daily, at the usual dose; 3 = greater
than the usual dose. A record will also be made, by
the evaluator, of the names of the pharmaceutical
preparations taken by the patient, and the daily dose.
Table 2 Data collection instruments at different assessment points
VariableT0 2s 3s4s 5s6s7s8s9sT1 T2T3
0-100 mm VAS
Tender points count
Improvement perceived by patient
Expectations and credibility
Diagnosis by traditional Chinese medicine
VAS: Pain intensity measured on a visual analogue scale; HAMD: Hamilton scale; FIQ: Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire; T0: Baseline value; T1: Final value (10
weeks after start of treatment); T2: Follow-up evaluation 1 (6 months after start of treatment); T3: Follow-up evaluation 2 (12 months after start of treatment); #s:
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
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- Expectations and credibility of the treatment .
These will be measured using an original scale
devised by Borkovec and Nau , with four items
measuring the following on a continuous visual ana-
logue scale from 0 to 10 (0 = totally disagree, to 10
= totally agree): (1) Do you believe this treatment
will alleviate the pain you feel?, (2)Do you believe
this treatment to be a logical one?, (3) Would you
recommend this treatment to a friend or relative suf-
fering from the same problem?, (4) Do you believe
this treatment would be a useful option for dealing
with other problems? Items 1 and 2 will be evaluated
after the second treatment session, and items 3 and
4 after the eighth session.
- Side effects and adverse reactions. A record will be
made of the side effects and possible adverse reac-
tions arising from the treatment.
- Family structure and relations, determined by the
genogram technique .
- Perceived pain threshold and tolerance (count of
positive tender points and determination of the pain
threshold and tolerance using a pain meter).
- Sociodemographic variables: age, sex, race, educa-
tion level, profession, income level, weight (kg), and
- Dependence on tobacco, alcohol or other
- Any present comorbidity.
- Diagnostic characteristic variables, according to
traditional Chinese medicine.
Data storage and confidentiality
All questionnaires are stored in a locked cabinet in a
locked room at each participating centre, and have a
unique identification number. Consent forms are stored
separately from study questionnaires in a locked cabinet.
Only anonymised data are entered into the compu-
terised study database, and access to the database is
restricted to the study team.
The statistical analysis will be carried out for two types
of groups: (1) per intention to treat, with all patients
randomised; (2) per protocol, including only patients
presenting no more than minor deviations from the
We will compare the baseline variables for the differ-
ent groups in terms of difference of the means and of
proportions. The magnitude of the difference in the pos-
sible imbalance produced by the random assignation to
the groups will be evaluated using ratios of the means
and of proportions (using that of the control group
(sham acupuncture) as a reference level, and the final
adjustment will be made using secondary analyses with
multiple linear regression models, as described below. In
the unadjusted analysis, significance tests will be used to
compare the sample (parametric or otherwise, depend-
ing on the symmetric or asymmetric distribution of the
result variables and on the homogeneity of their var-
iances), taking the control group as a reference, using
comparison tests for differences of the mean in the
main results variable, both as regards inter-group com-
parisons (for independent samples) and for comparisons
between the baseline and final levels for each group (in
this case, using tests for non-independent or paired
For the main result variable, pain intensity, we will
construct linear regression models, adjusted for baseline
level, treatment centre and depression, and using inten-
tion to treat analysis. The group variables will be
included, taking the control group as a reference,
together with the sociodemographic variables (age and
sex), together with the baseline variables for severity of
the process (pain intensity, FIQ and HAMD) and pain
threshold and tolerance. Adjustments will be made for
possible confounders, using criteria of statistical signifi-
cance and confounding. The detection of possible inter-
actions with the treatment group variable will be
evaluated using statistical significant criteria for the cor-
responding interaction terms. P values < 0.05 will be
declared to be statistically significant.
For the cost effectiveness analysis, a non-parametric
bootstrapping approach will be used with the incremen-
tal cost effectiveness preference map to illustrate the
willingness to accept: willingness to pay ratio, and a 95%
confidence interval will be computed for the different
measures of effectiveness . For cost imputation, drug
consumption will be taken into account, and different
thresholds established for acceptance of the experimen-
tal treatment, to evaluate diverse scenarios. For the cost
associated with the treatment, the all patients Diagnosis
Group Relationship measure will be used, in association
with the main diagnosis, together with the average pro-
fessional salary/hour, and the indirect costs associated
with acupuncture sessions.
The ethical validity of this study has been corroborated
by the Andalusian Committee for Clinical Trials, follow-
ing approval by the Research Committee at the Valme
Hospital (Sevilla, Spain). It will be carried out in accor-
dance with the Helsinki Declaration and its subsequent
amendments, up to and including the 2008 review ,
taking into account the principles set out in the Con-
vention of the Council of Europe on Human Rights and
Vas et al. Trials 2011, 12:59
Page 8 of 11
Biomedicine , as well as the requirements imposed
by Spanish legislation with respect to biomedical
research, personal data protection and bioethics . All
the patients taking part must give their written informed
consent to the clinical research procedures proposed.
During this study, audits will be performed as consid-
ered necessary by the corresponding research ethics
commission, as well as the Hospital’s own Quality Com-
mission, independently of any external audits (research
funders) that may be called for. The statistical analysis
will be carried out by third parties who will be unaware
of the origin of the data (blind analysis).
When acupuncture is practised in accordance with the
principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is
an individualised therapy. In this study, we have
designed a treatment protocol resembling standard clini-
cal practice, one that is sufficiently flexible as to address
individual variability in a reproducible form. Neverthe-
less, the study is an experimental one in which the acu-
puncture treatment cannot be implemented to its full
extent. Unlike standard clinical practice, a semi-standar-
dised protocol must be followed, so that the study may
be replicated, and the number of points where acupunc-
ture is applied must be limited. This may mean that the
effect obtained is inferior to that expected in standard
practice, although we have designed a point selection
consensus algorithm to cover the clinical presentations
most commonly adopted. This limitation does produce
an effect contrary to the study hypothesis, although the
design of a consensus algorithm will tend to reduce its
impact. On the other hand, the control branch of the
study, due to the attention provided and the effects of
peripheral sensory stimulation, however minimal they
may be, could have some positive results. This fact, too,
is contrary to the study hypothesis, but to an extent it
reflects the non-specific effect of the intervention.
It is not possible to perform a double-blind study,
because the acupuncture practitioner must know what
treatment is being applied. We attempt to overcome
this problem by preventing the practitioner from per-
forming the evaluation of outcome measures, as well as
ensuring that the blinding is maintained of both the eva-
luators and the patients.
One important limitation that may be present in this
study is the possible non-adherence of patients to the
treatment prescribed, as for various reasons they may
fail to attend any given treatment session. The main
study analysis was per intention-to-treat, but a per pro-
tocol analysis was also performed. The study size was
calculated on the assumption of a 25% loss rate, but it
will be necessary to ascertain that no differential losses
between the two treatment branches take place.
This trial will utilize high quality trial methodologies
in accordance with CONSORT guidelines . It may
provide evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture as
a treatment for fibromyalgia either alone or associated
with severe depression.
We are particularly grateful to Dr Carmen Márquez Zurita for her
contributions regarding the analysis of the family life cycle and its
registering via genograms. The authors acknowledge the participation in this
study of Ángeles Campos and Milagrosa Romero (Las Cabezas Primary
Healthcare Centre, Sevilla-Sur Health District), and José Francisco Aguilar and
Patricia Párraga (Morón Primary Healthcare Centre, Sevilla-Sur Health District)
who assisted in data acquisition and with relations with the patients.
This study has been awarded a grant (No. PI10/00675) in a competitive
application process of the programme for the promotion of biomedical
research and health sciences for the performance of clinical research
projects of a non-commercial nature, from the Spanish Ministry of Health
and Consumer Affairs (Carlos III Health Institute). In addition, it has been
awarded another grant (No. PI0436/09), also as part of a competitive
application process of the of the programme for the promotion of
biomedical research and health sciences for the performance of clinical
research projects, from the Andalusian Public Health System.
1Pain Treatment Unit, “Doña Mercedes” Primary Health Care Centre, Dos
Hermanas, Spain.2Support Research Unit, Costa del Sol Hospital, Marbella,
Spain.3CIBER de Epidemiología y Salud Pública (CIBERESP), Spain.
JV conceived the study, designed the study protocol, sought funding and
ethical approval and wrote the manuscript. MM, IA and KS made a
substantial contribution to designing the individualised acupuncture
treatment protocol. NB and FR are responsible for the statistical analyses. All
authors have critically reviewed and approved the final version of the
manuscript. The corresponding author had final responsibility for the
decision to submit for publication.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Received: 26 October 2010 Accepted: 28 February 2011
Published: 28 February 2011
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Cite this article as: Vas et al.: Effects of acupuncture on patients with
fibromyalgia: study protocol of a multicentre randomized controlled
trial. Trials 2011 12:59.
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