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Pain Management Health Center

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Acupuncture Pain Relief Is Real, Researchers Say

Nothing New to Some continued...

Duarte, who reviewed the study for WebMD, has practiced acupuncture for 19 years. He says that a good number of his patients benefit from it. Because there are limited options for pain management, even small amounts of relief are welcome.

“It’s better than nothing, and that is something,” says Duarte. “Even a modest benefit from acupuncture may lessen the need for medication and decrease the risk of side effects from medications and other interventions.”

According to the study, acupuncture showed a small but noteworthy advantage over sham acupuncture. That led the authors to conclude that there is a benefit beyond the placebo effect. However, the modest differences between real and fake acupuncture -- and the fact that sham acupuncture showed better results than standard care raise questions about what is actually at work when a patient is stuck with a needle.

“These effects may be real relief,” says Rick Hecht, MD, research director at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “There may be active ingredients that are still there even though the needles are not going into specific points and specific depths. What is doing it, you can’t tell, though other research is being done to break down the issue.”

Hecht was not involved in the study.

To Duarte, the fact that sham acupuncture shows benefits indicates that "sham" may be misleading.

“The word ‘sham’ implies it is a sham, but it may be beneficial,” he says. “Maybe the traditional acupuncture points are not as important as once thought.”

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