A study conducted in Germany found that "fake" acupuncture worked almost as well as "real" acupuncture, and that both performed better than conventional care (which included painkillers, massage, and heat therapy). Reportedly, 47 percent of patients receiving real acupuncture to treat lower back pain improved, as did 44 percent of the fake acupuncture group, but only 27 percent of the usual care group got relief. The study has been published in the Archives of Internal Medicine
, which is a reputable journal.
According to the AP report
, this is what is meant by fake acupuncture:
For the sham acupuncture, needles were inserted, but not as deeply as for the real thing. The sham acupuncture also did not insert needles in traditional acupuncture points on the body and the needles were not manually moved and rotated.
Personally, I've always been skeptical of acupuncture because I don't think that the theory of "qi energy" has any more validity than the ancient western notion of humoral theory. So it made sense to me that fake acupuncture would work about the same as real acupuncture. What surprised me was that both performed better than painkillers.
It's hard to explain why any form of acupuncture would work, unless it triggers a placebo effect, or if the pain of inserting needles is causing the body to produce its own painkillers. But I'm still going to be reaching for the advil when I have a muscle ache instead of poking needles in myself. (via Side Effects May Vary