Acupuncture’s Real Benefits
To the surprise of doctors, new research on acupuncture has found that the ancient Chinese healing technique provides real pain relief. Acupuncture involves sticking needles into specific points in the body that Chinese healers believe contain unseen energy pathways; the needles supposedly stimulate the flow of “qi,” or energy. Western medicine has viewed these claims with deep skepticism, contending that any benefits from acupuncture were due to the placebo effect: When people believe in a phony treatment, they often feel relief from symptoms.
But a new analysis of studies involving 18,000 patients by researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York found that real acupuncture is more effective than sham acupuncture, in which the needles are administered at random spots in the body, and is also more effective than some traditional over-the-counter pain relievers. About 50 percent of patients with migraines, arthritis, and chronic back or joint pain felt markedly better after undergoing acupuncture, as opposed to 43 percent of patients who received sham acupuncture and 30 percent who tried traditional remedies. “The effects aren’t due to the placebo effect,” Andrew Vickers, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, tells The New York Times. Even if doctors don’t understand how acupuncture works, he says, they now have “firm evidence” that it can relieve chronic pain.