The key to acupuncture could purely be a belief in the treatment by those who undertake it, according to research.
A study, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, found that although the ancient Chinese remedy appeared to be effective in treating chronic back pain, so did a ‘fake’ version of the therapy.
During the Spine (Stimulating Points to Investigate Needling Efficacy) trial, researchers tested the effects of acupuncture on 638 sufferers of chronic back pain.
Patients were randomly divided into groups where some received standard medical care, some experienced genuine acupuncture therapies, and others the simulated acupuncture.
The false treatment involved creating the sensation of needle pricks using toothpicks hidden inside guide tubes that did not penetrate the skin.
During the study, participants were treated twice a week for three weeks, and then weekly for a month.
Genuine acupuncture produced a substantial improvement in symptoms and the ability of patients to cope with their condition at eight weeks.
In contrast, those patients receiving ‘usual care’ functioned only slightly better. The beneficial effects lasted for a year, although they waned over time.
However the simulated ‘toothpick’ treatment turned out to be just as good at combating back pain as real acupuncture.