Not yet published acupuncture results touted in Australia

Oh, how… sensationalized. Because even according to the article, the headline is misleading.

Acupuncture as effective as drugs in treating pain, trial shows

An acupuncture trial in four Melbourne emergency departments has found it is just as good as drugs in relieving lower-back pain and that from sprained ankles and migraines.

The finding could open the door to Australian hospitals offering the low-cost Chinese therapy, which is used by more than 1 billion people worldwide for pain relief.

Emergency physicians at The Alfred, Northern, Cabrini and Epworth hospitals partnered with RMIT’s school of health sciences to see if acupuncture could relieve acute pain in hundreds of patients presenting to hospital with either lower-back pain, sprained ankles or migraines.

Dr Ben-Meir, director of Cabrini Hospital’s emergency department, said the randomised controlled study of about 550 patients also found that the combination of acupuncture with standard pharmaceutical care delivered equivalent pain relief to acupuncture alone or standard care alone.

So… wait…something does not add up.

How do they explain that standard care was no better than standard care + acupuncture or just acupuncture? That doesn’t suggest acupuncture does ANYTHING. It suggested instead that ANYTHING is better than nothing or that the drugs. This study seems to have been headed by someone who had personal observations of acupuncture results so he may have been biased from the start to a positive result. He does note, however, “I find acupuncture doesn’t always help all patients, but occasionally it’s the thing that really shifts them and gets them home and gets their symptoms resolved,” he said. “It has an effect, there’s no doubt about that.”

The effects are indeed doubtful. After many studies, we have no mechanisms and no solid effect from acupuncture beyond placebo. The study has not been published yet so we can’t really say how well it was done or what it really said. Regardless, one study would not overturn all the other negative evidence against anything special about acupuncture.



This study cost $400,000 just to show again that acupuncture is a placebo? That has already been done. Was this study actually needed? The science is fairly solid on acupuncture. It’s placebo. But those so attached to the magical properties can’t seem to accept that. Or, they have equated placebo effects with “effective treatment”. I’d rather be given a sugar pill hopefully than have needles stuck into me even very carefully! There is a risk with acupuncture and no real payoff.

Thanks to Dr. Rachie for the info.

Addition: » Announcing scientific results in the press before peer review = bad science.

  6 comments for “Not yet published acupuncture results touted in Australia

  1. One Eyed Jack
    March 29, 2014 at 11:09 PM

    Without seeing the study, a HUGE red flag is already evident.

    Patients must consent to be treated.

    Due to this simple fact, the study group cannot be randomized. Only people who have a predisposed belief in acupuncture will consent to treatment. The placebo effect will be very strong in this non-randomized group.

  2. thommo
    March 30, 2014 at 12:00 AM

    Prof Charlie Xue, who is referred to in the initial article as one of the chief investigators of the project, is described in an article in The Skeptic magazine (Australian variety), as “the Head of School, Health Sciences, at RMIT, [who] has a Bachelor of Medicine from the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine (GZUCM). GZUCM was founded in 1956, and originally known as Guangzhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. … The question is whether Prof Xue’s Bachelor of Medicine degree is in medicine as it is normally known in Australia or, as has been suggested, a Bachelor of Traditional Medicine (Acupuncture).”
    Note that Xue is head of the School of Health Sciences, which is not the same as courses in RMIT’s Medical Science. RMIT is a university based in Melbourne, by the way. That’s not to say an acupuncture proponent shouldn’t conduct a test, but it does open itself to suggestions of lack of independence.

  3. skeptictmac57
    March 30, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    Doctor: “You seem to still be in pain.Why don’t you let me stick you with a bunch of needles?”

    Me (after being repeatedly jabbed): “You know doc,I’m feeling a lot better.Can we stop with the needles already!?”

    Doctor: “Yesssssss!!!” (fist pump)

  4. March 30, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    Lower back pain is very common and is notorious for ‘coming’ and ‘going’ (I know, as I get it myself). So you may not need a placebo, simple coincidence may do. A long time ago I had a terrible back for about a year. I then changed my car (cars were not so reliable then and I changed them annually in those days), my back was cured within the hour!

  5. Harrow
    March 30, 2014 at 6:37 PM

    I have often wondered what an acupuncturist would do if my presenting complaint was debilitating pain resulting from accidentally stabbing myself with a large pin.

  6. March 31, 2014 at 9:39 AM

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