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Traditional acupuncture for people with medically unexplained symptoms: a longitudinal qualitative study of patients' experiences

Rugg, S., Paterson, C., Britten, N., Bridges, J. and Griffiths, P. (2011) Traditional acupuncture for people with medically unexplained symptoms: a longitudinal qualitative study of patients' experiences British Journal of General Practice, 61, (587), e306-e315. (doi:10.3399/bjgp11X577972). (PMID:21801509).

Record type: Article



People with medically unexplained physical symptoms (MUPS) are helped by interventions that combine physical and psychological explanations and treatment. Traditional acupuncture may offer such a perspective, but its use for these patients has not been investigated.


To ascertain how patients with MUPS perceive and experience five-element acupuncture treatment.

Design and setting:

A longitudinal qualitative interview study, nested in a randomised controlled trial was carried out in four general practices in socioeconomically diverse areas of London.


A purposive sample of 20 trial participants was interviewed twice, at the start and the end of 6 months of acupuncture treatment. Semi-structured interviews were transcribed, coded, and analysed thematically, summarising both across-case as themes and within-case individual vignettes.


Acupuncture, initially accepted as 'just another referral' - one like many others that had been tried and proved unsuccessful — was valued for the amount of time allotted with a caring practitioner who listened and responded, as well as for the interactive and holistic nature of the sessions. These attributes encouraged many patients to take an active role in their treatment, including making cognitive or behavioural lifestyle changes. Interviewees cited a wide range of changes in their health that spanned physical, psychological, and social dimensions. These were largely positive and included an increase in physical and/or mental energy, as well as feelings of greater personal control, calmness, and relaxation. Three interviewees reported worsening health but did not ascribe this to acupuncture.


Many patients who were treated with five-element acupuncture perceived a range of positive effects and appeared to take on a more active role in consultations and self-care.

Full text not available from this repository.

More information

Published date: June 2011
Keywords: acupuncture therapy, frequent attenders, patient participation, primary care, qualitative research, unexplained symptoms


Local EPrints ID: 168495
ISSN: 0960-1643
PURE UUID: f4e30420-3ca8-4d7f-9994-659ee09222f3
ORCID for J. Bridges: ORCID iD
ORCID for P. Griffiths: ORCID iD

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 30 Nov 2010 11:56
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:21

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Author: S. Rugg
Author: C. Paterson
Author: N. Britten
Author: J. Bridges ORCID iD
Author: P. Griffiths ORCID iD

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