Research: SHERMAN et al.,

Listed in Issue 83


SHERMAN et al., Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA, E:, describe and validate a non-invasive placebo acupuncture procedure.


Sham acupuncture treatments for use in controlled trials have to be evaluated for their suitability.


In a first experiment, acupuncture-naïve volunteers presenting with low back pain of at least 3 months’ standing received 6 insertions of real needles and 6 pokes with a toothpick in a guidetube in a two-period crossover design. In a second experiment, subjects were randomly assigned to receive either a complete treatment with acupuncture needles or a simulated treatment using a toothpick. Subjects’ perceptions about which implement was used were compared, while in the second experiment the patients’ perceptions of the treatment (acupuncturist’s warmth and caring, reasonableness of acupuncture as a treatment for low back pain) were compared.


Toothpick insertions were perceived as slightly more real than real acupuncture needling (p = 0.08). Comparable proportions of respondents in the second experiment believed they were receiving the real treatment. Those receiving real acupuncture were more likely to report immediate pain relief.


The placebo treatment described here represents a reasonable control treatment for acupuncture-naïve patients in randomized controlled trials of acupuncture.


Sherman KJ, Hogeboom CJ, Cherkin DC, Deyo RA. Description and validation of a noninvasive placebo acupuncture procedure. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicien 8 (1): 11-19, Feb 2002.


In recent years, there has been considerable publication activity regarding the lack of suitable research protocols to investigate acupuncture, particularly the lack of a suitable placebo or sham acupuncture technique. The above published studies demonstrate that progress is being made in addressing these issues regarding shortcomings in methodology.

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