For at least 2,000 years Chinese healers have used acupuncture to treat pain and other ailments. Now Western doctors want proof that it works.There is little dispute that people feel better after receiving the treatment, in which thin needles are inserted deeply into the skin at specific points on the body. But are they benefiting from acupuncture itself, or just getting a placebo effect?
The debate was fueled last week by a study in the journal Arthritis Care and Research. Researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston found that among 455 patients with painful knee arthritis, acupuncture delivered no more relief than a sham treatment.
Actually, patients got significant pain relief from both treatments — an average reduction of one point on a scale of 1 to 7. And critics contend that the study was poorly designed.
For one thing, they note, patients in both groups received treatment with needles and electrical stimulation; the main difference was that in the sham group, the needles were not inserted as deeply and the stimulation was far shorter in duration.
In the real world, however, a trained acupuncturist would customize the treatment to a patient’s specific symptoms. But in this study, the patients in the “real” acupuncture group all received needles inserted in the same way.
Rather than proving that acupuncture does not work, in other words, the study may suggest that it works even when administered poorly. But the real lesson, acupuncture supporters say, is how difficult it can be to apply Western research standards to an ancient healing art. For the whole story click here.