The Acupuncture Research Landscape
Medical research can be super confusing. Its got its own fancy lingo, its own counterintuitive rules, about a bajillion new studies are published each week that we try to keep up with and don’t get me started on stats . . .
If the above description seems fitting of medical research in general, then acupuncture research is probably twice as confusing. In order to join the echelons of Evidence Based Medicine, the acupuncture research community has performed endless contortions to get the complex, nuanced, heterogenous and interactive experience of an acupuncture treatment into a study-able pill-sized double-blind box.
Of course, this practice is backwards: scientific inquiry usually aims to keep the object of study as close to the original as possible and tries to find the best tools to understand it. But due to the primacy of pharmaceuticals in the Western medical context, an intervention is only considered evidence-based if it can be studied by the tools used to study mainstream interventions such a drugs, even if these are the wrong tools for the job.
Acupuncture Research is Way More Positive than You Realise!
The positive side of diligently and repeatedly putting ourselves under the microscope is that acupuncture now enjoys the strongest evidence of effectiveness of any so-called ‘complementary’ treatment and more support than many popular conventional treatments. I hazard to guess that most people in our profession have no idea how positive and strong the peer-reviewed evidence for acupuncture’s practice truly is!
But what is too often not acknowledged, usually out of lack of understanding (especially by researchers), is that when acupuncture studies refer to ‘the intervention’ (as if it were something as straightforward as 500 mg of Ibuprofen) or a ‘placebo control,’ these terms can only ever be metaphorical in the context of acupuncture.
The video below breaks the acupuncture research landscape down into its main parts. This includes studies examining acupuncture’s: effectiveness (how well acupuncture performs in the ‘real-world’), efficacy (how well it performs in controlled settings) and mechanisms (how it works).
- Studies examining acupuncture’s effectiveness consistently demonstrate that acupuncture is as effective as if not more effective and much, much safer than conventional care for many conditions. (Even skeptics don’t argue with that one)
- RCTs of acupuncture that are well-designed demonstrate that it is more effective than ‘sham’ acupuncture
- Oodles of studies have illuminated at least part of how acupuncture works
The video is about 10 minutes long, so make yourself a cuppa and find a comfy chair. Please comment below with your thoughts and your questions and please share it with your interested colleagues and research-minded patients. Enjoy!
Mel Hopper Koppelman is the executive vice-president of the Acupuncture Now Foundation (see full bio).