Is acupuncture a placebo treatment?

No, according to this NY Times blog post about a recent study.

This is an interesting subject, and one that is deserving of much discussion. But for now, let’s just start here. It’s true that studies are mixed on the efficacy of acupuncture; our theory for why this is so is that the nature of successful acupuncture does not lend itself to evidence-based clinical trials.

Effective acupuncture is specifically tailored for an individual at a certain place in time. This means that if 5 people came to me today for treatment of headaches, they would not all receive the same points. Each individual’s point prescription would depend upon the very detailed picture of pathology – the location of the headache, the type of pain, the time in which it occurs, the triggers, the pulse picture, the tongue… each of these components is significant both in its own right, and in relationship to the other components.

Furthermore, if those same 5 people with headaches came again next week, they would not receive the same points they received today. I reevaluate each individual each time; and though I may keep the treatment targeted toward the same general channels, I won’t necessarily do so.

Studies that require the repeated use of designated points to treat a condition are not, by their nature, going to appropriately or accurately gauge acupuncture’s efficacy or potential.