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The strength of the placebo effect with acupuncture

Did anyone else see this article? It seems to be making the rounds like wildfire–in the headache & acupuncture communities, at least. I’ve long since been interested in acupuncture but can’t get my mind around the fact that several of the studies cited most often to acupuncture experts are not well-crafted and cannot serve to make generalizations about larger populations. I know several people whose lives have improved since going to acupuncture–headaches, back pain, and more have been reduced to amazingly low levels for some friends who’ve gone to an acupuncturist. That’s wonderful–but is the belief in acupuncture more powerful than the process itself?

The needles aren’t painful as they enter your body (and as they rest there for awhile). Lying on a table imagining your body healing itself is good for anyone, even those without an acupuncturist hovering above. Imagining those energy channels opening up, envisioning your body working smoothly, all its parts in line–these visions probably accompany acupuncture treatment and may be just one part of the reason acupuncture seems to work so well.

I’m not looking for an argument here–there are many people who truly believe in its power. I am not denying that it works for many, many people. I’m grateful and happy that it’s brought such relief to some people in my life! But, as this article suggests, its anecdotally-reported success in the migraine community might be attributable to the placebo effect. And maybe that’s okay–as long as it works, right? Scientific and medical experts warn that the placebo effect wears off eventually, leaving people where they started. Even if that is the case, can’t we be happy that the patients have seen a break in pain without putting more drugs in their systems?

What do you think?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Parin Stormlaughter
    10 years ago

    Acupuncture has been very, very good for me.

    Some of acupuncture’s effects come from redirecting body energy, as the chiropractor who does my acupuncture tells me. Western science hasn’t delved into studying that aspect of acupuncture unfortunately.

    Valerie Hunt PhD, did some pioneering research in the mid 1960s on measuring the human energy field which has been repeated, but her published books are more holistic than traditional Western medicine seems to have embraced.

    Body energy can be redirected in a number of ways that don’t rely on insertion of needles into the skin. Donna Eden is the first personal energy medicine educator who teaches how to do this that pops into my mind but there are others.

    I would be interested in seeing the raw study data to see how many participants were helped by touching with needles in the correct places but that did not pierce the skin, and compare that to the needles placed in incorrect spots. That would tell the tale.

    Too, I’m big into energy medicine that utilizes a patient’s own energy to stimulate his or her body to heal itself. Not big into third-party energy healing techniques due to some MAJOR mishaps.

  • MaxJerz
    10 years ago

    I’ve seen 2 different acupuncturists in an attempt to treat my Chronic Migraines/CDH. The first I saw for about 2 months, and while I had some initial response, it wore off as time went. And she and I didn’t really “click” – she was very focused on having me stop all my medications and use only acupuncture as my treatment, but I wasn’t willing to do that.

    I’ve been seeing my current acupuncturist since October, and that (along with a lengthy treatment regimen) has started to make a difference. Simply put, she’s a better acupuncturist and I “click” more with her. Just like it’s important to find a headache specialist or PCP that you can work well with, it’s important to find an acupuncturist you work well with, too.

    There have been other studies done, comparing real acupuncture to sham acupuncture where the real acupuncture has achieved significantly better results than the sham. I do wonder how accurate any of these are, since I don’t see any way they can do a double-blind study with real and sham acupuncture. Just like a patient can have a placebo reaction, a practitioner can influence the positive or negative outcome as well.

    Hope that made sense.

    Be well,

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