Acupuncture/ pressurePain

Is sham acupuncture really a placebo?

Sham needling may be as powerful as verum (traditional) acupuncture, according to researchers from the Karolinska Institutet, in Stockholm, Sweden.

The case against using sham acupuncture as a placebo.

  • Clinical and experimental results suggest that sham/minimal acupuncture is not inert.
    • Both verum and sham/minimal acupuncture induce significant alleviation of pain.
    • This alleviation is as pronounced as the response to standard treatment and more obvious compared to placebo or waiting list controls.
  • These results also suggest that sham acupuncture needles evoke a physiological response.
  • In healthy individuals sham acupuncture activates limbic structures, whereas it deactivates it in patients with pain.
    • Limbic structures in the brain are involved in emotional behavior.
  • The response to sham acupuncture varies depending on the source of pain, the way the study is conducted, and the patients psychological makeup.

The bottom line?
The authors recommend that the response to acupuncture should be compared with the standard treatment being studied, taking into consideration patient factors that might affect the outcome.

Others have also raised doubt about the validity of traditional acupuncture theories regarding point locations and indications.

6/16/09 18:25 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.