Original Research Article| Volume 103, ISSUE 5, P348-355, May 2021

Auricular acupressure and acupuncture as adjuncts for pain management during first trimester medication abortion: A randomized three-arm trial



      To measure pain during first trimester medication abortion using auricular acupressure or auricular acupuncture as an adjunct to pain management. We measured anxiety as a secondary outcome.

      Study design

      This randomized, double-blinded, 3-arm trial enrolled women seeking medication abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol. Participants received auricular acupressure, auricular acupuncture, or inert auricular placebo patches immediately after receiving mifepristone. In addition, all participants received ibuprofen to use at home as needed. The study started with 1:1:1 randomization, but later overenrolled into the acupressure group after retraining for greater fidelity to that intervention. Participants reported pain and anxiety using numeric rating scales via text message for 4 days, and using a visual analog scale at follow-up. Analyses compared median pain scores of those receiving acupressure, acupuncture, or placebo.


      We randomized 136 participants of whom 57 received acupressure, 40 received acupuncture, and 39 received placebo. Groups had similar baseline characteristics. One hundred thirty-two participants (97%) reported outcomes by text message and 120 (88%) completed a follow-up interview. For acupressure, acupuncture and placebo groups the median maximum pain scores reported via text message were 60.0, 75.0, and 55.0 (p = 0.38); median maximum pain scores reported at follow-up were 76.5, 60.0, and 71.0 (p = 0.97), respectively. Acupressure results were similar before and after retraining. Maximum anxiety scores reported via text message were 10.0, 45.0, and 30.0 (p = 0.57). Maximum anxiety scores reported at follow-up were 10.5, 20.0, and 13.0 (p = 0.59).


      Pain and anxiety during medication abortion were similar among women receiving acupressure, acupuncture or placebo.


      We found no benefit in administering auricular acupressure or auricular acupuncture during medication abortion. These modalities are intended to be simple to use, but perhaps the brief provider training for this study was insufficient. These modalities should not be used in clinical practice without further study.


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