Research: FINK and colleagues, D

Listed in Issue 77


FINK and colleagues, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany,, tested the viability of a placebo needle designed for use as a 'control' treatment in acupuncture research .


To assess the credibility of the placebo needle, the researchers carried out a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, comparing authentic acupuncture treatment with treatment using the placebo needle, and questioned the participants of the study on the credibility of the treatment they received in terms of whether they believed it to be 'real' or 'placebo' acupuncture. Subjects and evaluators of the study results were 'blinded' with regard to which subjects received which treatment.


Subjects were 68 patients aged 4814 years who fulfilled the criteria of the International Headache Society for tension-type headache . Subjects were assigned to receive either authentic acupuncture (traditional needle placement and manipulation) (ACU group) or needle insertion using the experimental placebo device (PBO group). Following their first treatment, each patient completed a questionnaire on credibility with regard to their treatment. After 3 or 4 treatments, patients were questioned about the feeling of needle insertion and 'deqi'.


The patients reported equal credibility ratings for the authentic acupuncture and the placebo treatments. All patients in the ACU group and all but 4 in the PBO group recognized needle insertion . However, 84% of ACU patients compared with only 34% of PBO patients reported 'deqi' .


The prototype placebo needle used in this study had high credibility among subjects who received treatment with it. However, it was concluded that careful training is needed to achieve comparable prick sensations with authentic acupuncture versus the placebo device. The placebo response using placebo needles also deserves evaluation.


Fink M et al. Credibility of a newly designed placebo needle for clinical trials in acupuncture research. Forschende Komplementaermedizin und Klassische Naturheilkunde 8 (6): 368-72. Dec 2001.

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