Does acupuncture work?

And, if so, how?

The efficacy of acupuncture was one of many topics which we discussed with our Chinese friends as we spent three weeks travelling around China together [for an account of the holiday, click here].  Unsurprisingly our Chinese companions are convinced that acupuncture works; my wife is sympathetic to it; I am sceptical about it.

This week, a study has been published assessing the use of acupuncture to relieve childbirth pain. This was a good focus for such a study because most pain is low-level and comes and goes, so that it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of different interventions, but childbirth can involve exceptional pain and is localised in time.

The study found no evidence that acupuncture is any more effective than a placebo. This does not surprise me because I believe that acupuncture works exactly like a placebo.  Indeed the every visible and intrusive nature of the insertion of needles makes is a convincing placebo for many users, but other studies have shown that inserting needles in the ‘wrong’ places is just as effective.

You can read more about the childbirth study here and you can find a much fuller discussion of acupuncture here.


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