This news release, issued by a university in Berlin, Germany, concludes that use of an app-based acupressure program can achieve a “sustained reduction in menstrual pain” in some women when assessed at 3- and 6-month intervals. The release does a reasonable job of describing the study outcomes, how researchers went about conducting a randomized controlled trial using a “self care” app, and in describing statistically significant pain reduction over six months in some women.
Careful readers will likely come away with the idea that acupressure — essentially massage and manipulation applied to certain parts of the torso — is not the final answer to menstrual pain. The release could have done more to make clear that hormone and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were still used by the study participants, and to better list the adverse effects.
As the release notes, most young women experience cramps, bloating, headaches, backaches, and other discomforts — often severe — at some point of their lives during their monthly menses. An entire industry, pharmaceutical and otherwise, has grown up around this perpetual “market,” with a growing complementary/alternative “self-care” therapy sector that includes yoga, meditation, herbal medicines, and app-based regimens. As the study summary reports, research results on the use of acupressure for menstrual pain relief have been inconclusive or negative, and controlled clinical trials of the technique are extremely rare. Thus, a release with positive results, about a distinctly, albeit limited, controlled trial in more than 200 women, is newsworthy and could encourage the use of smart phone apps for this purpose. That makes it all the more important to include as many important details about the makeup of the study group and the quality of the data as possible. Because acupressure is considered safe, its use as an add-on to drug and other active therapies has the potential to be widely and inexpensively adapted. But potential users of the method also need to be aware that more research, with longer follow-ups, will be needed to determine accupressure’s true effectiveness over time.
The release did not mention it, but the app is “gratis” according to the Luna app website (in German). Most apps of this kind are sponsored and free, and even those that are not free of charge are mostly very inexpensive.
The release put the benefits experienced by the treatment and control groups in numerical context:
“After three months, 37 percent of participants in the acupressure group reported a 50 percent reduction in pain intensity. After six months, this proportion had increased to more than half of the women in this group (58 percent). Only 25 percent of women in the control group reported a similar reduction in pain intensity at both the 3-month and 6-month marks. Women in the acupressure group also used less pain medication than women in the control group and reported lower levels of pain overall.”
The news release leaves the impression that there were no ill effects, but the study summary itself notes that some women in the acupressure group experienced bruising, nausea, dizziness or chest pressure.
According to the study, 15 participants experienced an adverse effect.
The release states that the study was randomized and controlled and that it included 221 young women that were assigned to one of two treatment groups. Only the treatment group (those doing acupressure) were given instructions on how to administer self-acupressure before and during menstruation. Participants were assessed on their pain levels at 3- and 6-months.
Some limitations described in the study but not mentioned in the release: about 90% percent of volunteers had at least 12 years of school education, higher than the average population which would affect the generalizability of the results to the general population. Researchers also stated that the relatively short follow-up time could have resulted in an overestimation of the treatment’s benefit.
Although the vast majority of women are estimated to have mild to moderate menstrual pain, and menstruation has often been inappropriately construed as a “disease” always in need of medical intervention, this release presented the issue matter-of-factly, and reasonably.
The release doesn’t say how the research was funded. The last line of the release notes the trade name of the app used in the study but not the developer.
The release notes that the trial aimed to evaluate whether women achieved greater reduction from acupuncture as an add-on treatment than from “usual care alone.” Usual care was described as pain medication and hormonal contraceptives.
The release would have been improved had it made it explicit that the study participants continued to use other pain relief therapies while doing acupressure and that the acupressure study was designed to test the technique’s value as an adjunct therapy.
The release links to a website where the app is available in German and where it can be downloaded for free.
The release notes that there’s been only limited research into the therapeutic benefits of smart phone apps and that only a few have been randomized controlled trials. It does not claim to be the first to test an app for acupressure and menstrual pain.
The release doesn’t engage in unjustifiable language.