Acupuncture/ pressurePain

Lack of acupuncture’s effect on arm pain due to repetitive use

In fact, this study found that sham acupuncture had marginally better results.

First, the details.

  • 123 people with persistent arm pain due to repetitive use were randomly assigned to true or sham acupuncture.
  • They received 8 treatments over 4 weeks.

And, the results.

  • Arm pain scores improved in both groups, but improvements were significantly greater in the sham group.
  • This difference disappeared by 1 month after treatment ended.
  • The true acupuncture group experienced more side effects, predominately mild pain at the time of treatments.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Mild side effects from true acupuncture may have blunted any positive treatment effects.”


But, what’s interesting to me is that in an earlier study of people with arm pain, the sham device had greater effects than a placebo pill on self-reported pain and severity of symptoms.

The explanation, according to the authors of that study was that “The medical ritual of a device can deliver an enhanced placebo effect beyond that of a placebo pill.”

“There are many conditions,” continued Dr. Ted Kaptchuk from Harvard Medical School in Boston, “in which ritual is irrelevant … such as in treatment of a bacterial infection, but the other extreme may also be true. In some cases, the ritual may be the critical component.”

I doubt this accounts for the success of acupuncture in all conditions, but it might play a role where acupuncture, on its own, seems to show no less benefit than placebo or sham treatment.

2/22/08 18:31 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.