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New trials to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture

Published: 
14 January 2004

Researchers at the University of Southampton are recruiting almost 300 patients from local hospital waiting lists to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment, as part of a three-year project sponsored by the Department of Health.

The team led by Dr Peter White, Senior Research Fellow at the University's Complementary Research Unit, have already completed an trial of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic neck pain, which demonstrated a 60 per cent reduction in pain; the team will now investigate what it is about the treatment that provides relief for the sufferer.

They will recruit patients from orthopaedic waiting lists and assess three areas: the efficiency of the treatment by testing acupuncture against a placebo for patients with hip or knee pain; the effect of the patient/practitioner interaction by comparing empathic and non-empathic consultations, and the effects of two currently used placebo controls to assess a range of non-specific effects such as to ascertain if there might be an enhanced placebo effect from needling.

Each patient will receive a four-week course of treatment, either real acupuncture or one of two placebos, and half will receive a standard empathic consultation whilst others will have their treatment in a non-empathic format. After the treatment phase of the trial, some of the patients will be interviewed at home so that their responses can be fed into future research programmes.

"We are particularly interested in the non-specific effects of acupuncture treatment, in particular the patient/practitioner interaction or therapeutic process," comments Dr White. "To some extent, modern based medicine has failed to value this individual and very personal interaction between patient and therapist. Perhaps complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments can present a valuable model design through which we may understand this process."

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