The ancient Chinese therapy of acupuncture does not help patients deal with pain any better than a placebo and may even harm them, research has found.
British and Korean scientists said at least five people have died after having the 2,000-year-old needle therapy and dozens more suffered trauma and infections.
Acupuncture sees patients’ skin pierced with needles at specific points and claims to alter the flow of a ‘life-force’ energy called ‘qi’. It has been used to treat a range of problems, including illnesses and infertility.
It is commonly used to ease chronic pain but the experts said there is little “truly convincing evidence” it helps in any way other than creating a placebo response in patients.
Their study - published in Pain, looked at 266 investigations of acupuncture pain treatments.
The research team said it had seen no evidence acupuncture was better than a fake treatment where the skin was not punctured with needles.
Evidence from fake therapies, which patients thought were real, were just as good at controlling back pain, the study found. However, both were more effective than the conventional treatments.
The researchers put the positive effects of acupuncture down to the therapist being convinced it would work, patients expecting effects or the way the therapist communicated.
Lead researcher Professor Edzard Ernst, from the Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, said: “Many systematic reviews of acupuncture for pain management are available, yet they only support few indications, and contradictions abound.
“The key to making progress would be to train all acupuncturists to a high level of competency.”
Some of the studies involved found negative effects after acupuncture, including 38 cases of infection and 42 of trauma.
The study said many were the result of malpractice. Among the most frequently reported complications were penetration of the chest cavity leading to lung collapse and bacterial and viral infections. There were five recorded cases of patients dying after treatment.
- Hall H. Acupuncture’s claims punctured: Not proven effective for pain, not harmless. Pain 2011; Advance online publication.
Have you signed our petition to ensure nurses have a seat on consortia boards? Follow @Aseatontheboard on twitter follow for all the latest campaign news!