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Is Acupuncture Effective?

Acupuncture has been used by Chinese healers for more than 2,000 years to treat conditions such as pain. Today, Western doctors are looking for proof that acupuncture is actually effective.

Real or Placebo Effect?
Actually, there is not much dispute about the fact that people benefit from acupunture, which involves insertion of thin needles deep into the patient’s skin. But, the question asked is whether the benefits are due to acupuncture, or a placebo effect.

Houston Study
In a recent research study at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, acupuncture was used to treat 455 patients suffering from knee arthritis. The researchers found that the patients received equal relief from acupuncture and a sham treatment. Actually, the patients got significant relief from both types of treatments.

Critics say the study design was poor. Patients placed in the both the groups received treatment with electrical stimulation and needles. But, in the sham group, the duration of stimulation was shorter and the needle insertion was not as deep. Plus, while a trained acupuncture practitioner would customize treatment according to a patient’s needs, in the study, all patients in the “real” group were treated in the same manner.

The study might have actually proved that acupuncture works, even if it is poorly administered. And, the research also highlights the difficulty in applying Western research standards to determining the efficacy of ancient healing arts such as acupuncture.

The researchers of the study they developed the sham treatment after consulting trained acupuncturists. They say if a drug study throws up an equal response in the two groups, then it means the drug is ineffective.

German Study
Acupuncture studies have fueled the consideration that any needle prick can influence the pain factor felt by the patient. In a 2007 German study, half of 1,200 respondents reported less pain after undergoing real and sham acupuncture treatments. This compares with 27 percent of patients who felt less pain after undergoing traditional back treatment methods such as physical therapy.

In the German study, the efficacy of acupuncture was also proved by another factor. Only 15% of patients in the “real” acupuncture group took extra drugs for pain, compared to 34% in the sham group. A whopping 59% of patients in the conventional therapy group reported taking extra pain pills. The researchers speculated that the insertion of needles around the painful area may have triggered a “super placebo effect”.

Acupuncture Harnesses Healing Powers
Acupuncture aficionados are not bothered by Western research findings that acupuncture has a significant placebo effect. They say the goal of integrative medicines such as acupuncture is to harness the body’s healing powers. This harnessing can either be done by needle insertion or a placebo effect.

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