Most of us have heard of the placebo effect, and how powerful it can be. Again and again studies have shown that patients proclaim improved symptoms when they believe they are receiving treatment or medication, even if the treatment is fake or the medication is just sugar pills.
Many skeptics of acupuncture have proclaim the placebo effect as the true cause of the pain relief that acupuncture patients feel.† We acupuncturists know that that this argument is as weak as a house of cards, but science has backed us up.The best way to prove a direct cause and effect and control for the placebo effect is with a double-blind study, which is known to be the gold standard in the world of research. In a double-blind study, research subjects are divided into at least two groups. One group receives an authentic treatment, while the other group receives a fake treatment. The key to the double-blind study is that neither the researchers nor the participants know if they are receiving the real treatment or the fake.
Both groups are watched closely, and effects of the treatment are carefully documented. If the group that received the authentic treatment showed stronger positive effects than the placebo group, it is generally believed that the treatment does provide some benefit exceeding the placebo effect.
When it comes to acupuncture, it has always been challenging to do a double-blind test, because it’s just plain hard to fake acupuncture in order to have a placebo group. However, researchers have found a way to perform sham needle therapy by placing needles superficially or in locations on the body that are not actual acupuncture treatment points.
A powerful study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine provided a meta-analysis on 29 previous studies that looked at the efficacy of acupuncture. The analysis, led by Andrew Vickers, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at Memorial Loan Kettering Cancer Center, came back with some pretty remarkable results.
He found that, overall, the combined studies showed a statistically significant improvement of acupuncture over sham needle treatments and no treatment at all for reliving back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis and headaches.
One of the discoveries that stood out the most to me is that Vickers reported on a pain scale of 100 – 0, patients who came in for acupuncture treatment went from an average 60 on the scale to 30 post treatment, meaning their pain was practically cut in half!
If anyone you know ever allegates that pain relief through acupuncture is only due to the placebo effect tell them to do some more research, or better yet, have them try it out for themselves so they can see first-hand how they can benefit.
Patricia Tierinni writes for Eastlake Acupunture in Eastlake, Chula Vista, East Asian medicine and acupuncture in Bonita clinic providing low back pain relief as well as shoulder pain, anxiety, allergies, migraines, insomnia, depression, sports-related injuries relief.