Western culture has been hesitant to embrace medical treatment that is outside the mainstream realm of scientific understanding (a.k.a. Eastern medicine). While it would be impossible to say holistically that there is error in that notion, it may turn out that in the case of acupuncture- we westerners should be a little more open minded.
It turns out that sufferers of chronic back pain can, in most cases, significantly reduce the amount of pain they have by receiving acupuncture treatment. This may come as a surprise to many people not extremely familiar with the practice (a category into which I fall). What’s more surprising, though, is the fact that people who receive “fake” acupuncture demonstrate nearly the same amount of success.
In a recent German study, 1,100 patients reporting back pain were assigned into three separate treatment groups. One received conventional (Western) treatment such as pain injections, medications, massage, and physical therapy. Another received genuine acupuncture (needles placed 3-4mm into the skin at specific points on the body). The last received “fake” acupuncture (placing needles barely into the skin in random points on the body). These are the results:
Percentage of Participants Reporting Improvement
Fake Acupuncture: 44%
Another study, using toothpicks merely touching the surface of the skin at traditional acupuncture points, also demonstrated remarkable improvement in pain.
While there is no overwhelming consensus as to what causes this improvement, a couple of points can be stated without much debate:
1) Acupuncture clearly is effective, regardless of how it works. It may, in fact, be more effective than conventional pain-relief methods more commonly used in Western culture.
2) The effect can be demonstrated even when proper technique is not utilized. The natural reaction is to merely call this the Placebo Effect (which is, by the way a significant effect and should not be ignored if it can relieve pain). But, why should the placebo effect be stronger than more commonly accepted measures?
Ultimately, even those who doubt the efficacy of acupuncture will agree that it doesn’t have a negative effect. So, while we may not fully know how acupuncture works or even completely believe that it does, it might be wise to give it a chance. After all, if a child breaks his arm and then tells me that blowing bubbles makes him stop hurting- you’d better believe I’m going to go buy him a pack of Bazooka.