Placebo Theory

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When people discover that I'm studying acupuncture a common question I get asked is "isn't acupuncture just placebo?" The short answer is yes and no. I have written this article in response to this question and to examine the placebo effect. I have tried to be as objective as possible but obviously my view is going to be biased as I am studying to become an acupuncturist so I obviously think it is more than placebo.

To start with the definition of the placebo effect is "A substance containing no medication and prescribed or given to reinforce a patient's expectation to get well." Broadly speaking placebo is an effective treatment that is present in all therapies. The similarities in all therapeutic relationships are that a person goes to a
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In acupuncture's case this is the understanding of energy which flows through meridians/channels throughout the body. This is where the two worlds collide as Bausell states (page275). "No CAM therapy has a scientifically plausible biochemical mechanism of action over and above those proposed for the placebo effect."

Modern science has further problems with acupuncture as Bausell (page106) goes onto state "But if the primary biochemical explanation for how these little needles reduce pain involves an unmeasurable energy force surging through some unobservable meridians with no documented connection to pain or anything else, then most members of the scientific community will have a difficult time believing these positive results."

Presently there are two forms of acupuncture in use in the uk, traditional acupuncture based on the theory of qi or energy as used in China, Japan and Korea and medical acupuncture often referred to as dry needling as practised by doctors, physiotherapists and other primary care physical therapists. Acupuncture has been reinterpreted by the west as Campbell
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Doctors and other medical professionals will base their opinion on acupunctures effectiveness based on these results. These results will also be used by newspapers so they have a huge impact on public opinion.

Acupuncture is considered to be a holistic medicine which treats the whole person. As a result it takes into account many signs, factors and observations that are considered irrelevant in western medicine. Any treatment with acupuncture is therefore based on individual symptoms so there is no treatment protocol for one particular disease. For example when performing a trial on the effectiveness of acupuncture for back pain the trial is riddled with problems from the start whether it is investigating the effectiveness of acupuncture, osteopathy or any other intervention. Chaitow a prominent osteopath comments on the problems encountered when performing clinical trials on back
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