September 12, 2012

The result of a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has found that traditional acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain to be “effective,” is more than a placebo, and is a reasonable referral option. However, the therapeutic benefit of acupuncture includes a substantial placebo effect (the perceived or actual improvement in a medical condition from a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment). The study focused specifically on the use of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and chronic shoulder pain.

The study analyzed data from 29 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that involved a total of 17,922 patients who received genuine acupuncture or “sham” acupuncture (sham acupuncture used needles that were inserted unsystematically where the patients were unaware that they were not receiving genuine acupuncture). The study found that genuine acupuncture was superior for treatment of chronic pain to both sham acupuncture and no-acupuncture for the four chronic pain conditions studied.

The study found that pain reduction by at least one-half was 50% for genuine acupuncture, 43% for sham acupuncture, and 30% for no-acupuncture. These results suggest that most of the effectiveness of genuine acupuncture comes from the placebo effect.


What Is Acupuncture?

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine describes acupuncture as follows:

The term “acupuncture” describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.

Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine [“TCM”]. In TCM, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang — [t]he concept of two opposing yet complimentary forces described in traditional Chinese medicine. Yin represents cold, slow, or passive aspects of the person, while yang represents hot, excited, or active aspects. A major theory is that health is achieved through balancing yin and yang and disease is caused by an imbalance leading to a blockage in the flow of qi — qi is the vital energy or life force proposed to regulate a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health and to be influenced by the opposing forces of yin and yang along pathways known as meridians. Qi can be unblocked, according to TCM, by using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians. Sources vary on the number of meridians, with numbers ranging from 14 to 20. One commonly cited source describes meridians as 14 main channels “connecting the body in a weblike interconnecting matrix” of at least 2,000 acupuncture points.

Acupuncture became better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.


Does it really matter if most of the effectiveness of genuine acupuncture is from its placebo effect if patients who suffer from chronic pan find that genuine acupuncture helps with their pain? We think not.

If you or someone you know have become the victim of medical malpractice (or acupuncture malpractice) in the United States, you should promptly consult with a local medical malpractice attorney to determine your legal rights.

Click here to visit our website or telephone us on our toll-free line (800-295-3959) to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your state who may be able to investigate your possible medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in your medical malpractice case, if appropriate.

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