Acupuncture has been -- how shall we say? -- one of the less ridiculed techniques of alternative medicine, at least in recent years.
A body of evidence shows that it does indeed relieve pain, for many conditions. But a study released today suggests that acupuncture probably only works because patients believe that it will -- and it's the belief, not the procedure, that makes the difference.
Placebo effect indeed. Imagine that -- a placebo that has endured for 2,000 years!
During a 4-month bout with sciatica this year, I was desperate enough to try anything short of back surgery or steroid spinal injections. A high profile local death, as a result of steroid spinal injections, prompted me to reject that option.
Acupuncture, however, was not the answer for me. I'm not squeamish about needles -- it's just that acupuncture didn't work. In fact, the treatment actually magnified the pain!
From the wellness blog:
In the new trial released today by the journal Arthritis Care & Research, 455 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were randomly assigned either to receive traditional Chinese acupuncture or to receive a sham treatment -- a kind of mock acupuncture with needles inserted away from traditional acupuncture meridians, and with shallow needles designed to give very little of the stimulation that acupuncture provides.
After six weeks of therapy, the two groups showed comparable results.
Both groups reported less pain and fewer symptoms than a smaller group of patients who were still on a wait list, having not received treatment at all.
In the end acupuncture did make people feel better -- but it wasn't the treatment that mattered.