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Placebo acupuncture can ease short-term pain but the real thing might help to reverse the underlying
Thursday 7 September 2017
In a randomised controlled trial published in March, 80 patients received either real electro-acupuncture or a fake version (in which retractable needles were placed at non-acupuncture points, with no electric current), in 16 sessions over eight weeks. Immediately after the treatment, all the patients reported similar reductions in their symptoms. Scientists would normally conclude from this result that the acupuncture didn’t work. But as in Harris’s trials, the underlying physiological effects were very different. The true acupuncture groups showed measurable improvements in the speed of nerve transmission and in the somatosensory cortex that weren’t seen in the placebo group. And only the true acupuncture groups still had reduced pain after three months. The larger the physiological changes measured by the team immediately after treatment, the better the patients felt three months later.