Acupuncture More Effective Than Placebo

Acupuncture Today
January, 2000, Vol. 01, Issue 01

In the Heidelberg study, 52 athletes suffering from shoulder pain were divided into a control group and an acupuncture group. Each group received eight 20-minute sessions over a four-week period. The project was a single-blind study; the acupuncturists who administered the needles were aware of the different treatments involved, but the subjects were not.

The acupuncture group received traditional acupuncture therapy, with needles inserted through a plastic ring affixed with plaster into a combination of 12 acupoints according to the patient’s symptoms. The control group were treated using a special “placebo-needle” designed by one of the researchers. The placebo needle had a blunt tip which only touched, but did not penetrate, the subject’s skin. Patients in the control group would feel a small pricking sensation and “see” the needle being inserted without it actually doing so.

Patients were rated using the modified Constant-Murley score, assigning points to the level of the subject’s pain; their ability to perform daily activities; the painless range of motion in their shoulder; and the maximum amount of power in their shoulder. Patients in the control/placebo group improved by an average of 8.37 points after receiving treatment. Scores from the acupuncture group, meanwhile, improved an average of more than 19.2 points after treatment. Seventeen patients in the acupuncture group (68%) gave the treatment a positive evaluation after the final treatment as opposed to only 14 patients (52%) in the control group.

Based on these results, the authors concluded that “acupuncture with penetration of the skin is more effective than placing the needles on similar sites.” However, the authors were quick to point out the study’s limits, stating that the treatment “only demonstrates the effectiveness of the needling procedure in rotator cuff tendinitis” and calling for a larger, double-blinded study to prove the effectiveness of acupuncture as opposed to placebo.

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