What's going on in these studies? How is it possible that fake acupuncture treatments achieve similar results to treatments provided by trained acupuncturists according to the standards of Chinese medicine?
One possible explanation is the placebo effect. The placebo effect is the idea that a fake treatment can yield positive results simply because of the patients' expectation they are receiving a helpful treatment.
The whole point of giving some patients sham acupuncture in these studies is to measure for the possibility of the placebo effect. Otherwise there is no way of knowing whether any observed results are brought about because of the effects of the treatment itself or the power of suggestion.
These studies could be showing us the power of the placebo effect in action. Perhaps it is the ritual and practice of inserting needles and allowing the patient to quietly rest with the needles in their bodies that leads to a reduction in headaches and migraines rather than anything the practice of acupuncture does for the body.
Even if these results are attributable to the placebo effect, I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying acupuncture if you want to. If you believe acupuncture may be able to help you, it very well may. There is no harm in finding a qualified practitioner who can provide you with the treatment.
I have received many acupuncture treatments. They did not help with preventing my migraine attacks, but many times they helped relieve an attack in progress. I learned a lot through my interactions with the practitioner I saw. It was a incredibly valuable experience in my life.
I don't get the treatments anymore because I can't really afford it and because the practitioner felt she was not able to help me the way she wanted to, but I got more out of our sessions than she can possibly ever know.
Sources:Migraines, Tension Headaches Respond to Acupuncture
Acupuncture Effective for Headaches, But 'Faked' Treatments Worked Almost As Well
The Healing Power of Placebos
Acupuncture Effective in Preventing Chronic Headaches
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Content by Diana E. Lee.