Acupuncture Less Effective for Skeptics

By Tim Locke
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

Feb. 17, 2015 -- People with back pain who think it's unlikely that acupuncture will help them get less benefit from it than those who believe it will work, according to new research.

Researchers from University of Southampton in the U.K. recruited 485 people who were planning to have acupuncture. They gave the people questionnaires before treatment began, and then 2 weeks, 3 months, and 6 months later. They gathered info on psychological factors, the patients' backgrounds, and how back pain was affecting them.

"People who started out with very low expectations of acupuncture, who thought it probably would not help them, were more likely to report less benefit as treatment went on," says study author Felicity Bishop, PhD, in a statement.

Her work is funded by Arthritis Research UK, and the findings are published in The Clinical Journal of Pain.

What's more, Bishop says: "When individual patients came to see their back pain more positively, they went on to experience less back-related disability. In particular, they experienced less disability over the course of treatment when they came to see their back pain as more controllable, when they felt they had better understanding of their back pain, when they felt better able to cope with it, were less emotional about it, and when they felt their back pain was going to have less of an impact on their lives."

She says acupuncturists should consider helping patients to think more positively about their back pain during consultations.

In a statement, Dr. Stephen Simpson, director of research at Arthritis Research UK, says: "This study emphasizes the influence of the placebo effect on pain."

When doctors give people a "fake" treatment (or placebo), sometimes those people might report as many benefits as patients receiving a real treatment, as long as they think it will help.


Negative emotions are more powerful than positive emotions. See Answer

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SOURCES: Bishop, F. The Clinical Journal of Pain, February 2015. News release, Arthritis Research UK.

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