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Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials
(87 pages)

Table of Contents
View the documentAcknowledgements
Open this folder and view contentsIntroduction
close this folder1. General considerations
View the document1.1. Definition
View the document1.2. Need for evaluation
View the document1.3. Evaluation methodology
View the document1.4. Safety
View the document1.5. Availability and practicability
View the document1.6. Studies on therapeutic mechanisms
View the document1.7. Selection of clinical trial reports
Open this folder and view contents2. Review of clinical trial reports
View the document3. Diseases and disorders that can be treated with acupuncture
View the document4. Summary table of controlled clinical trials
View the documentReferences
 

1.3. Evaluation methodology

Unlike the evaluation of a new drug, controlled clinical trials of acupuncture are extremely difficult to conduct, particularly if they have to be blind in design and the acupuncture has to be compared with a placebo. Various “sham” or “placebo” acupuncture procedures have been designed, but they are not easy to perform in countries such as China where acupuncture is widely used. In these countries, most patients know a great deal about acupuncture, including the special sensation that should be felt after insertion or during manipulation of the needle. Moreover, acupuncturists consider these procedures unethical because they are already convinced that acupuncture is effective. In fact, most of the placebo-controlled clinical trials have been undertaken in countries where there is scepticism about acupuncture, as well as considerable interest.

A more practical way to evaluate the therapeutic effect of acupuncture is to compare it with the effect of conventional therapy through randomized controlled trials or group studies, provided that the disease conditions before treatment are comparable across the groups, with outcome studies developed for all patients.

Because of the difficulty of ruling out the placebo effect, a comparative study with no treatment as the control may not be convincing in the evaluation of acupuncture practice. Retrospective surveys, in which the effect of acupuncture therapy is compared with past treatments, may not be of significance either, particularly if they have not been well designed. Non-comparative studies are certainly of little significance, particularly when acupuncture is used for the treatment of a self-limited disease. However, if rapid improvement can be achieved in the treatment of a long-standing, chronic disease, or if there is definite improvement in a disease that is generally recognized as intractable to conventional treatment, the effect of acupuncture should be viewed in a more favourable light, even when a well-designed, controlled study has not been carried out.

Another difficulty in evaluating acupuncture practice is that the therapeutic effect depends greatly on the proficiency of the acupuncturists-their ability and skill in selecting and locating the acupuncture points and in manipulating the needles. This may partly explain the disparities or inconsistencies in the results reported by different authors, even when their studies were carried out on equally sound methodological bases.

Evaluating acupuncture practice and arriving at generally accepted conclusions is no easy task, therefore. While effectiveness is doubtless of the utmost importance, other factors, including safety, cost, availability and the condition of local health services must also be considered. Given the same effectiveness, these other factors may lead to different evaluations of acupuncture in different countries and areas. However, conclusions are needed that apply to worldwide use, particularly for countries and areas where proper development of acupuncture practice would bring a great deal of benefit. Evaluations should not therefore be confined to those diseases for which modern conventional treatments are inadequate or ineffective.

Because of the success of surgical procedures carried out under acupuncture analgesia, the treatment of pain with acupuncture has been extensively studied. For other conditions often treated with acupuncture, there are fewer reports that have adequate methodology.

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Last updated: May 4, 2012