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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is Acupuncture Better than Toothpicks?

Orac is at it again. He describes a pretty good study of the possible effects of acupuncture on lower back pain [Another acupuncture study misinterpreted]. The study showed that patients who got a sham procedure using toothpicks instead of needles reported the same "cure" as those who got two different versions of acupuncture.

In other words, acupuncture doesn't work. The scientific evidence is conclusive. Acupuncture is associated with a potent placebo effect but that's all. Patients can't tell the difference between needles and toothpicks. As long as they think they're getting the full-blown acupuncture treatment they'll report an improvement in lower back pain.

Here's the description of the toothpick technique that "cures" back pain.
Simulated acupuncture. We developed a simulated acupuncture technique using a toothpick in a needle guide tube, which was found to be a credible acupuncture treatment by acupuncture-naïve patients with back pain.Simulating insertion involved holding the skin taut around each acupuncture point and placing a standard acupuncture needle guide tube containing a toothpick against the skin. The acupuncturist tapped the toothpick gently, twisting it slightly to simulate an acupuncture needle grabbing the skin, and then quickly withdrew the toothpick and guide tube while keeping his or her fingers against the skin for a few additional seconds to imitate the process of inserting the needle to the proper depth. All acupuncture points were stimulated with toothpicks at 10 minutes (ie, the acupuncturist touched each acupuncture point with the tip of a toothpick without the guide tube and rotated the toothpick clockwise and then counterclockwise less than 30°) and again at 20 minutes just before they were "removed." To simulate withdrawal of the needle, the acupuncturist tightly stretched the skin around each acupuncture point, pressed a cotton ball firmly on the stretched skin, then momentarily touched the skin with a toothpick (without the guide tube) and quickly pulled the toothpick away using the same hand movements as in regular needle withdrawal. The acupuncturists simulated insertion and removal of needles at the 8 acupuncture points used in the standardized treatment.
Just about anyone could be trained to do this. Think of how much unnecessary back pain could be eliminated if spouses and friends would just poke each other with toothpicks!

I think I'll ask Ms. Sandwalk to try it next time my back hurts.


  1. Yep - and this is how the press report it. Sigh.

  2. I think I'll ask Ms. Sandwalk to try it next time my back hurts.

    That means she gets to pose as the pin cushion?

  3. Acupuncture corrects the body by balancing energy patterns. To answer your statement yes it does work. Many people all over the world have felt much better once they have gone through treatment.