November 16, 2012
Does acupuncture work better than
traditional pain treatments?
Back in 1983, when I was first applying for private hospital admitting privileges in Anchorage, one doctor accosted because I use acupuncture. He was a bull-headed drug- and surgery-only orthopedic surgeon who was on the committee that oversaw new applicants. Since I wanted to provide acupuncture services for in-patients, as an alternative to chemicals and surgery, he jumped on my case.

At the time, he asked me what the AMA position on acupuncture was. I admitted that they consider it a “placebo.” He slammed the gavel, so to speak. He did grant me admitting privileges, but denied me acupuncture privileges. Now that surgeon was doing back surgery every day with a “50% make you worse rate.” Of course, after surgery, he didn’t have to deal with the patient. He left me to deal with his failures.

Well, acupuncture has come a long way in this country. A new analysis of 18,000 adults found that acupuncture needling works better than usual pain treatments. But that’s not all. The report also said that acupuncture, when they do it right, works slightly better than fake acupuncture. The latter finding is likely due to any needling that stimulates brain endorphin production, no matter where they place the needle.

The authors used a pain scale of 0 to 100: The patients' average baseline pain measured 60; it dropped to 30 on average in those who got acupuncture, 35 in those who got fake acupuncture, and 43 in the “usual treatment” group (the control group). In other words, acupuncture works better than a placebo and typical pain treatment. I’ve always known that, but the AMA is still coming around.

In Alaska, I was blessed to have an acupuncturist (Andrea W., now in Oregon) in my clinic. She received her training in the old-time Chinese fashion – as an apprentice to a master. She was magnificent, and her patients loved her. I gradually surrendered my acupuncture practice to her. Later, she approached me and asked, "Why did you slow down your acupuncture work?" I responded, “Because you came along with far more training and experience than I had, and I decided to refer the patients to you.” She replied, “Oh, no, Robert! Your patients love you. Your results were superb. It’s not so much the technical knowledge, but your intent that leads to results, and your results were just wonderful! Your care and concern for your patients led to those wonderful results even more than technical expertise.”

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I really appreciated her comments. But science is showing the importance of what she said. New studies have shown how our thoughts affect not only ourselves but also those around us. I recommend the book “The Genie in Your Genes” by Dawson Church for a beautifully explained treatise on how our thoughts merge with genetic function and healing.

I’m convinced that is why we won’t see a dramatic difference in sham acupuncture vs. “proper” acupuncture. Indeed the infamous quackbuster Stephen Barrett, MD, a “Mr. Know-It-All” about non-scientific methods, chimed in that the study’s results are “dubious,” considering the different methods of acupuncture delivered throughout the world. Most of my peers consider Dr. Barrett the king of Big Pharma propaganda and alternative-medicine-hate literature. I just wish he would look at the studies on horrific conventional chemical methodology before he casts spears at the alternatives.

I still don’t do acupuncture very much. As an MD, I’ve found far quicker and more cost-effective methods to reduce or eliminate pain. These include neural therapy and ozone therapy (Prolozone, another “needle therapy,” in particular). My wife continues to do acupuncture in our office. She studied in Beijing many years ago and is very good. If you have chronic pain, acupuncture is definitely worth considering.

Yours for better health and medical freedom,

ReF: Archives of Internal Medicine, September 10, 2012; AP News, September 10, 2012.

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