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Simulated acupuncture as good as the real thing

A new study from Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University shows that simulated acupuncture helps just as much as real acupuncture against nausea for cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment.

“Consequently, the good effects do not seem to be due to traditional acupuncture methods but probably to the patient’s positive expectations and the increased care that the treatment entails. The patients were able to talk to the physiotherapists treating them and they had physical contact and extra time for rest and relaxation,” says Anna Enblom, physiotherapist and researcher at Karolinska Institutet. The study is part of her thesis work at Linköping University.

The study included 277 patients at the university hospitals in Linköping and Lund, as well as Karolinska Institutet University Hospital in Solna. They underwent radiation treatment against cancer in the abdominal and pelvic regions. They were randomly assigned to three groups, two of whom received traditional and simulated acupuncture respectively, and a group that did not receive acupuncture and only care according to normal routines with nausea medicine.

The results show that patients receiving real or simulated acupuncture recovered better than the group receiving care according to normal routines. On the other hand, there the two acupuncture groups returned the same results. This is despite the fact that during the five-week treatment period the placebo needles touched the skin only for only two minutes in total.

The patients’ expectations seem to be important for the effect; 81 percent of the patients that expected they would feel nauseous actually did, compared with 50 percent of those who did not expect to be nauseous.

“It’s important to remember that the effect of the treatment is valuable for patients, even if it may be caused by non-specific factors such as care and the patient’s positive expectations. We’ll now go further and study which parts of the acupuncture procedure actually work,” Enblom says.

Text: Anika Agebjörn


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Last updated: 2012-12-10