The amount of research into the effectiveness of acupuncture for a range of conditions is steadily increasing. There are a number of different types of study and it is important to know the differences between them.
Some studies look at a specific ailment and how effective acupuncture is (for example in the treatment of back pain or insomnia). These studies can look at how the patient gets on (patient outcomes) in different ways, e.g. how the patient rates the pain, how much sleep a patient has, actual physical changes (e.g. skin condition).
Other studies are called meta-studies and they investigate the results of lots of individual studies. This gives people access to the overall summary of lots of different studies. There are often problems with meta-studies as the process of doing them can lead to errors.
Studies can be done with placebo controls or not. The placebo effect is the name for the way in which we get better simply because we have seen a doctor and been given a tablet (even if it is just a placebo, or has no medicine). It is difficult to carry out trials of acupuncture and other complementary therapies as it is difficult to find a real placebo (often in acupuncture trials they use sham acupuncture although this also has problems as the acupuncturist performing the treatment will know if it is sham or real acupuncture).
We will be writing more about acupuncture in our blog.