Sham, Real Acupuncture Result in Similar Pain Relief in OA

Acupuncturist setting a positive expectation also can trigger an apparent placebo effect in patients

THURSDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA) is no better than sham acupuncture for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee, but patients whose acupuncturist communicates positive expectations have better pain reduction and satisfaction than patients whose acupuncturist has a neutral communication style, according to a study in the September issue of Arthritis Care & Research.

Maria E. Suarez-Almazor, M.D., of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and colleagues randomized 455 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee and 72 healthy controls to one of three groups: waiting list (to have their treatment deferred), "high" (to receive treatment from an acupuncturist who communicated with patients in a tone of positive expectation), or "neutral" (to receive treatment from an acupuncturist who communicated in a tone of neutral expectation). Nested within each of the two style groups, patients were randomized to receive either TCA or sham acupuncture for six weeks.

The researchers observed no significant differences between patients in the TCA and sham acupuncture groups, both of which had improved pain outcome measures compared to the deferred group. However, patients in the positive-expectations group had significant improvement in pain reduction and satisfaction compared to the neutral group.

"TCA was not superior to sham acupuncture. However, acupuncturists' style had significant effects on pain reduction and satisfaction, suggesting that the analgesic benefits of acupuncture can be partially mediated through placebo effects related to the acupuncturist's behavior," the authors write.

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