Researchers from the University of York, in the UK say it’s time to move on from asking if acupuncture is more effective than placebo.

First, the details.

  • They reviewed the evidence supporting acupuncture for the most commonly occurring forms of chronic pain (back, knee, and head).
  • 8 systematic reviews with meta-analyses of pooled data were included.

And, the results.

  • Short-term outcomes
    • Acupuncture was significantly better than sham for back pain, knee pain, and headache.
  • Longer-term outcomes (6 to12 months)
    • Acupuncture was significantly more effective for knee pain and tension-type headache but inconsistent for back pain (one positive and one inconclusive study).
  • In general, the differences between treatments were relatively small.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “The accumulating evidence from recent reviews suggests that acupuncture is more than a placebo for commonly occurring chronic pain conditions.”

They continue, “If this conclusion is correct, then we ask the question: is it now time to shift research priorities away from asking placebo-related questions and shift toward asking more practical questions about whether the overall benefit is clinically meaningful and cost-effective?”

At least 2 other studies from the same university suggest, “For persistent non-specific low back pain, acupuncture appears to provide a modest benefit to health, at a relatively minor extra cost to the UK healthcare system.”

1/15/10 21:32 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.