Could acupuncture success be all in the mind?

Real and 'fake' acupuncture both as successful as painkillers at relieving headaches

The benefits of acupuncture could all be in the mind, according to a group of scientists who say that placing needles in the skin away from traditional pressure points was nearly as effective at stopping headaches.

Experts did confirm that acupuncture is as successful as painkillers at relieving the pain of headaches and migraines, however, ‘sham’ acupuncture where needles hover above the skin or are placed in different areas, was almost as effective.

Scientists at a Munich university put the theory down to a strong ‘placebo effect’, which may trick patients into feeling healthier because they believe the treatment will be a success.

‘Much of the clinical benefit of acupuncture might be due to non-specific needling effects and powerful placebo effects, meaning selection of specific needle points may be less important than many practitioners have traditionally argued,’ said Klaus Linde.

The German team’s study analysed the most common form of headache – the ‘tension-type’ – and patients were given either real or sham acupuncture for a period of eight weeks.

The results showed both the alternative therapies were as effective as painkillers at relieving symptoms. The ‘faked’ treatment was only marginally less successful at treatment of headache pain than real acupuncture or painkillers.

However, the scientists explained that more research was necessary to understand how sham acupuncture works before it can be offered to the general public.

Dr Linde said: ‘Doctors need to know how long improvements associated with acupuncture will last and whether better trained acupuncturists really achieve better results than those with basic training only.’

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