Even Fake Acupuncture Helps Back Pain

The news story this blog entry is based on reports that a scientific study found acupuncture gives more relief to people than usual care did. This story is an example of scientists making mistakes.

The science of Acupuncture has been derided by modern scientists for decades as a superstition with no validity. This story proves scientists have been wrong for all of those decades.

( The story title says “fake” acupuncture because the acupuncture used toothpicks which did not break the skin, instead of traditional acupuncture needles which do break the skin. The toothpicks were still being applied using Acupuncture principles though, so Acupuncture was indeed taking place. )

The original news story is reprinted next.


People suffering from chronic low back pain who received acupuncture treatments fared better than those receiving only conventional care, according to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Interestingly, the study also showed that people receiving simulated acupuncture-toothpicks were inserted instead of needles–also fared better than those receiving conventional care.

What gives?

Researchers wish they knew. But they still can’t explain how acupuncture actually works. Only that it has been shown to elicit a positive effect.

“This adds to the growing body of evidence that there is something meaningful taking place during acupuncture treatments outside of actual needling,” said Dr. Josephine P. Briggs, director of the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. “Future research is needed to delve deeper into what is evoking these responses.”

Here’s more detail on the clinical trial, from a NCCAM press release:

“This trial enrolled 638 adults with chronic low back pain who had never had acupuncture and who had rated the “bothersomeness” of their pain as at least a 3 on a 0-to-10 scale.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: individualized acupuncture, involving a customized prescription for acupuncture points from a diagnostician; standardized acupuncture, using a single prescription for acupuncture points that experts consider generally effective for chronic low back pain; simulated acupuncture, which mimics needle acupuncture but does not involve actual penetration of the skin; or usual care, which is standard medical care.

The patients assigned to any of the three acupuncture groups (individualized, standardized, or simulated) were treated twice weekly for three weeks, and then weekly for four weeks. At 8, 26, and 52 weeks, researchers measured back-related dysfunction and how much symptoms bothered participants.

The researchers found that at eight weeks the individualized, standardized, and simulated acupuncture groups all improved their dysfunction scores significantly more than the group receiving usual care. These benefits persisted for one year, though diminished over time.

However, there was no significant difference between the groups receiving the needle and simulated forms of acupuncture. Thus, while acupuncture was found effective in treating low back pain, neither tailoring acupuncture needle sites to an individual patient nor penetrating the skin appears to be important for receiving therapeutic benefit.”

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