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Sham Acupuncture and Real Acupuncture Equally Effective for Knee Osteoarthritis

By August 22, 2010

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Sham acupuncture and real acupuncture are equally effective in the treatment of knee osteoarthritis. Not only that, the study appearing in the September issue of Arthritis Care & Research, suggests that the communication style of the acupuncturist affects treatment results.

The study involved 455 patients with knee osteoarthritis who received either sham or real acupuncture. There were 72 healthy controls who received no treatment. Both the sham and real acupuncture groups reported significantly reduced levels of pain compared to the healthy, non-treatment group. Pain reduction was even greater in the group whose acupuncturist expressed high expectations for the treatment compared to the group whose acupuncturist was more neutral.

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August 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm
(1) Steve Knobler, Licensed Acupuncturist says:

Interesting study. “Sham” typically means that the technique used for treatment has no effect. However, shallow needling on non-meridian points doesn’t equate to sham. There are several styles of acupuncture that use shallow needling (Toyohari, for example) and “ashi” points (not located on the standard meridians). As for the practitioner’s communication style affecting the outcome…doesn’t that occur often we have good person-to-person interaction? Supportive behavior builds confidence and strengthens the immune system. I run a community-style acupuncture clinic in Seattle where people are treated in a group setting. We believe that this supportive environment produces better results. That’s one reason why there are more than 150 community clinics across the United States, and growing!

January 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm
(2) Django says:


“Sham” in this context means that the method is not in any way related to acupuncture. It includes needles that don’t penetrate the skin, and needles that are randomly inserted into the body in terms of location and depth.

If you think that a random insertion of needles creating the same effect as licensed acupuncturists who have been “trained” for years is a healthy sign for your field then you have a level of delusion that matches most people I have met who practice or pay for acupuncture. :)

The point of noticing the way therapist expectations affected outcome is that you could run a community support clinic without any needles (just get people together and give them some love and support and a chance to speak and be heard) and have the same or better results.

You sound like a well-intentioned person, I hope you put your efforts into something that will generate better results.

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