Is Acupuncture Just Placebo?

People often ask me if acupuncture is just a placebo when they find out I am studying it. The short answer to this question is “Is acupuncture just a placebo?” This article was written to answer this question and examine the placebo effect. Although I tried to be objective, my views are biased because I am currently studying to be an acupuncturist.

The definition of the placebo effect, which is “A substance that contains no medication but is prescribed or given to increase a patient’s hope to feel better,” can be found here. The placebo effect is a treatment that works. There are many similarities to all therapeutic relationships. A person visits a medical authority to air their complaints, receives reassurance, and is then treated for the problem. This alone can create a placebo effect. Trust is an important element. Patient satisfaction will be influenced by the bedside manner. There is also the expectation of treatment. The higher the expectation, the better.

Ritual is another important factor that can increase the placebo effect. The more rituals, the stronger the placebo effect. The rituals involved in acupuncture include the first consultation, examination, and treatment. This is why it is considered to have a high placebo effect.

Many people don’t realize that all medicines have a placebo effect.

Below is a fascinating story about how surgery can use a placebo.

“An unusual trial of an old procedure used to treat angina was conducted by Leonard Cobb, a young Seattle physician. He made small incisions on the chest and attached knots to two arteries in order to increase blood flow. The technique was popular and 90 percent of patients liked it. However, Cobb compared it to placebo surgery which involved making incisions in the chest but not tying off the arteries. He found that the sham surgeries were just as successful. The procedure, also known as internal mammary surgery, was quickly abandoned. (The Placebo Prescription, New York Times Magazine January 9, 2000). *”

Although you can’t prescribe placebo surgery because of obvious ethical reasons, this is a great example of the power and effectiveness both of placebo and ritual.

Although they are not directly related to acupuncture, there are many other factors that can cause the placebo effect. Red pills are more effective than blue pills, for example. Four pills are better than two. If you are interested in learning more about the placebo effect, I recommend Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science”.

Animals can also be treated with acupuncture for arthritis and muscular skeletal issues. The placebo effect is responsible for the positive results in animals. According to the theory, even animals can benefit from acupuncture if their guardians or owners are influenced by a placebo.

Current understanding of Acupuncture

It is necessary to first define acupuncture.

Traditional Chinese philosophy states that our health depends on the body’s motivational energy, known as qi. It moves in a balanced and smooth manner through a series of meridians (channels), beneath the skin. Poor nutrition, weather conditions, and hereditary factors can all affect the flow of qi. An acupuncturist can activate the body’s healing response by inserting fine needles into the channels of energy. This will help restore the body’s natural balance.

British Acupuncture Council

Because modern science doesn’t fully understand the mechanism of acupuncture, it is sometimes attributed to having a placebo effect. This is the study of energy flowing through channels throughout the body or meridians in acupuncture. Bausell states that this is where the two worlds meet (page275). “CAM therapy does not have a biological mechanism of action that is scientifically supported beyond those suggested for the placebo effect.”

Bausell, page106 states that modern science has other problems with acupuncture. “But if the primary biochemical explanation of how these tiny needles reduce pain involves some unobservable energy force surging through certain unobservable meridians without any documented connection to pain or any other, then most members of the scientific community will have difficulty believing these positive results.”

There are currently two types of acupuncture available in the UK. Traditional acupuncture is based on the theory qi, or energy, as used in China and Korea. Medical acupuncture often referred to simply as dry needling, is practiced by primary care physical therapists, doctors, and physiotherapists. Campbell clarifies that the west has reinterpreted acupuncture.

In practice, needles are often used to relieve symptoms, including pain. A large number of Western health professionals have taken up acupuncture, many of them interpreting it in modern anatomy, pathology, and physiology. This type of acupuncture is known as Western medical acupuncture or dry needling. This practice acknowledges that the ancient Chinese made many right observations, but they don’t see the need for them to continue the theory they created. Modernists ignore the traditional “meridians”, the “acupuncture points”, the yin and the yang, and instead use different criteria to decide where and how to insert needles.

Clinical trials: Problems

There is currently a lot of interest in acupuncture. This has led to numerous clinical trials investigating the effectiveness of acupuncture. These results will be used by doctors and other medical professionals to base their opinions on the effectiveness of acupuncture. Newspapers will also use these results, which have a significant impact on public opinion.

Acupuncture can be considered holistic medicine that treats the whole person. It takes into consideration many factors, signs, and observations that would be considered in western medicine. Acupuncture is a treatment that is based on the individual symptoms of each patient. There is no specific treatment protocol for any one disease. The trial to determine if acupuncture is effective for back pain is an example of this. Chaitow, a well-known osteopath, discusses the difficulties encountered in clinical trials for back pain.

“Acute back pain” can be caused by many things, including biomechanical, pathological, psychological, and functional. This includes intervertebral disc issues, facet joint dysfunction, and hypermobility. It may also involve muscle and/or ligamentous problems. Trigger points, disturbing emotion/somatization, and possibly sacroiliac restrictions.

This is a major obstacle to the promotion of Acupuncture as clinical trials are used for determining effectiveness. Many more clinical trials are being done on acupuncture, all with different outcomes. It is difficult to conduct clinical trials for acupuncture, which is why it is such a hot topic. At the moment, the Holy Grail of acupuncturists is to find a way to put acupuncture through clinical studies that both satisfy acupuncturists as well as the medical community.

East meets West: A clash of cultures

To understand how acupuncture came to be, one must first understand its origins. Acupuncture was developed before imaging and clinical trials. This concept of an energy system does not only apply to acupuncture, but also to China. It can be found in areas where intuition and observation are the only tools. Prana is a term for qi in India, and it has a similar healing system.

Although the origins of acupuncture remain a mystery, I will share some thoughts that might help you to understand. The long history of Chinese culture includes meditation practice and martial arts. It is a tradition that stems from religious traditions like Buddhism and Daoism. These techniques can help practitioners to become more aware of subtle sensations in their bodies and quieten their minds. These observations helped to map the energy system in the body.

It’s easy to feel this energy. Just sign up for a tai-chi class for six months. China’s history is a good example of this. China did not practice autopsies for a long period of time. They didn’t see the point in studying anything that was dead. Although it is not clear how fine needles were invented, pressing on various points to alleviate symptoms was a common practice for some time. Acupuncture Cornelius NC is an extension of this practice.

We Westerners are highly analytical and have been taught to use logic and reason. These skills are rarely valued and only a few jobs require them. It’s difficult to convince people in the west that there is acupuncture. There aren’t enough data and clinical trials with acupuncture are difficult to understand. The opposite is true for acupuncturists. They place a lot of emphasis on training the senses and are frustrated by clinical trials that are too limited in their ability to understand and record the benefits of acupuncture. Acupuncture can have many benefits that will extend to all aspects of one’s life, both physical and psychological.


The positive effects of acupuncture could be attributed to placebo. However, western medicine cannot attribute these data to qi.

Another possibility is that acupuncture has a placebo effect, and that additional positive effects may be due to an unknown effect. Some of the observations could be correct, e.g. Sticking needles into certain parts of the body can reduce pain, but this is based on a western understanding.

Medicine’s goal is to maintain health, treat disease and prevent future illness. Both approaches to medicine agree on the fundamental points, but they approach them from completely different perspectives.

Since I have been doing qi gong for many years, I am aware that qi exists. I feel the flow of qi through my body. This energy can also be sensed by other students. This sensation is also felt when I receive acupuncture. An old qi-gong teacher taught a type of qi that is known as hard qi, which is used to condition the body. You can do unimaginable feats like bending your throat and breaking bricks on your head when your body is well-conditioned. All of them are using their qi.

Many stories tell of great masters in acupuncture diagnosing patients by simply looking at them and giving them detailed information about their personal lives and current condition. My clinical observations with practitioners have shown me the immense benefits of acupuncture. These patients range from hyperactive 2-year-olds to disc degeneration 80-year-olds.

Although Qi, or energy, may not yield to scientific instrumentation, it is easily recognized by living things. Science has yet to resolve many mysteries, including acupuncture.

Lakeside Sports Chiropractic Center
19924 Jetton Road Suite 101, Cornelius, NC, 28031, USA
(704) 896-8446

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