Study Shows Acupuncture Works, One Way or AnotherHealing Wednesday, September 12th, 2012
(CNN) Many people with chronic pain swear by acupuncture, but skeptics of the ancient needle-based treatment have long claimed that it’s little more than an elaborate placebo.
A new study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine appears to at least somewhat vindicate the acupuncture believers.
After re-analyzing data from 29 high-quality clinical trials dating back to the 1990s, researchers have concluded that the pain relief derived from acupuncture is partly real, in that it can’t be ascribed entirely to the placebo effect.
The trials, which included roughly 18,000 people with chronic pain stemming from arthritis, headaches, or back and neck problems, all compared genuine acupuncture with one of two alternatives: treatment as usual, or “sham” acupuncture — a counterfeit (i.e. placebo) version of the treatment in which needles are inserted unsystematically.
Pain relief of 50% or more on a 100-point scale — pain that drops from a 60 to a 30, say — is a commonly used standard of effectiveness in pain research. By this measure, the study found, the effectiveness rates for real acupunture, sham acupuncture, and treatment as usual are 50%, 43%, and 30%, respectively.
“Most clinicians and patients would say a 50% success rate versus a 30% success rate for something like intractable chronic pain is actually pretty good,” says lead author Andrew J. Vickers, a statistician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Acupuncture, which originated in China, involves placing needles in specific locations or “meridians” of the body in order to treat various ailments, especially pain. Acupuncture practitioners claim the technique relieves pain by modifying energy flow through the body.
“Acupuncturists talk about concepts coming from outside traditional biomedicine,” Vickers explains. “Doctors will say, ‘I didn’t learn about energy flow in Physiology 101.’”
The energy-flow theory has met with a great deal of skepticism in the United States and other Western nations, and researchers have failed to identify other, biological underpinnings for the treatment.