Fake acupuncture 'as effective as needle'
SIMULATED versions of acupuncture may be as effective at treating chronic back pain as the ancient Chinese needle therapy, a new study has revealed.
Researchers found that patients given the procedure, including a "fake version", were much more likely to feel pain relief than those given normal remedies.
But findings published last night in a medical journal suggest that belief in the benefits of acupuncture may be the key to its success.
Experts claim the findings show that simulated "tooth-pick" acupuncture – which does not prick the skin – delivers just as much benefit as real needle acupuncture.
Researchers in the US masterminded the biggest-ever scientifically meaningful acupuncture study, which saw scientists test the effects of acupuncture on 638 sufferers of back pain.
Patients were divided randomly into groups receiving standard medical care, or usual treatment plus one of two genuine acupuncture therapies or simulated acupuncture. The fake treatment involved mimicking needle pricks using tooth picks hidden inside guide tubes that did not penetrate the skin.
Participants were treated twice a week for three weeks, and then weekly for a month.
At intervals of eights weeks, six months and a year, the researchers measured back pain symptoms and their effects on quality of life.
Both types of genuine acu-puncture – either individually tailored treatment or a standardised "across the board" treatment – produced a substantial improvement in symptoms and the ability of patients to cope with their condition at eight weeks.
In contrast, the "usual care" patients functioned only slight-ly better.
The beneficial effects lasted for about a year, although they waned over time. However, the "toothpick" treatment turned out to be just as good at com- bating back pain as real acu-puncture.
The leader of the trial, Dr Daniel Cherkin, from the Group Health Centre for Health Studies in Seattle, said: "We found that simulated acupuncture, without penetrating the skin, produced as much benefit as needle acupuncture – and that raises some new questions about how acupuncture works."
His colleague, Dr Karen Sherman, said an unknown physical process could be involved, but suggested another explanation might be a "mind-over-body" effect.
"We don't know precisely whypeople got back pain relief from the simulated acupuncture," said Dr Sherman.
"Maybe the context in which people get the treatment has effects that are more important than the mechanically induced effects."
It is estimated that in Britain up to 85 per cent of the population experiences back pain at some point and that the problem costs the National Health Service around 500 million a year.
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