Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Updated September 1, 2004





Recent Study Shows Effect of Acupuncture
Lasts Three Years or More
By Victor Kumar

Chinese medical practitioners claim that their medicine treats the core of health problems and therefore delivers superior results in the long term. Right now, these claims are based on the experience of the practitioners and traditional teachings but not on research. That may soon change.

A recent study in the international journal, Pain, examining the long term effects of acupuncture on neck and shoulder pain found that people got pain relief three years after the completion of a course of acupuncture with electrical stimulation. (1) This groundbreaking result is a strong positive statement about the effects of acupuncture as well as a call for more research into the incredible potential of Chinese medical treatments. Three years with less pain is really exciting news for patients looking for long-term pain relief. It also lends support to the idea that acupuncture treats the root of health problems rather than just the symptoms.

In this study, not only did acupuncture create better pain relief than sham acupuncture (needles inserted into sites that are nearby but not on actual acupoints) but the difference between the two groups at the three year follow up mark was one of the most significant in the entire study. If acupuncture were a palliative treatment (a treatment that provides only temporary relief like a pain killer), you wouldn't expect to see the results of treatment over a long period of time. Whatever result occurred in the short term, you would expect to be constant through the study and disappear after a period known as _washout_. In other words, if you have a constant headache you wouldn't expect to get better results from aspirin the second week you were taking it than the first week; but this study indicates that with acupuncture you can expect more and more pain relief as time goes on.

The study also reaffirmed the importance of needling classical acupoints and the power of electrical stimulation. The use of sham acupuncture as a placebo ensured that the results obtained where more than a physiological change due to mere needle insertion. Instead, needling acupoints according to the traditional point location and applying electrical stimulation decreased pain in the long term. Again, the greatest difference between using correct needle location and sham location was seen in the long term, after several treatments.
In conclusion, it is important to note that one study, especially one of this size, doesn't definitively prove any of the claims mentioned here. It does however strongly suggest that the experience of acupuncturists (and their patients) is worth more study. Other groups of researchers will certainly attempt to repeat this work with larger groups of patients and for a variety of conditions. Hopefully, they will get started right away because one thing is for certain with a study of this type: We won't have the results for at least three more years.

1. Dong He, Kaj Bo Veiersted, Arne T. Høstmark and Jon Ingulf Medbø. Effect of acupuncture treatment on chronic neck and shoulder pain in sedentary female workers: a 6-month and 3-year follow-up study. Pain, Volume 109, Issue 3, June 2004, Pages 299-307

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