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Try telling my patients that acupuncture doesn't work

Having just read the BMJ acupuncture study, I can see a deep flaw in the researchers' reasoning ('Acupuncture is "all in the mind", say researchers').

The study says everything about placebo or sham acupuncture, and very little about acupuncture itself.

It has been well known to acupuncturists for many years that needling at points other than traditional Chinese acupuncture points has an effect. This makes it very difficult to have a true placebo, which has no intrinsic effect of its own.

It makes it difficult to design a study that can demonstrate the efficacy of acupuncture to those whose only gold standard of proof is the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Acupuncture has become part of my day-to-day work in general practice, since I trained in basic acupuncture techniques six years ago with the British Medical Acupuncture Society, and it is very popular with my patients. They are impressed with its effectiveness and the freedom it provides from drugs and their associated side-effects.

I'm not in the least surprised acupuncture is now being recommended for the treatment of headache. Can anyone recommend another effective treatment for tension headache? Usually the patient is sent away with simple and ineffective painkillers.

I have found acupuncture gives rapid, and often long-term relief, through its actions of local muscle relaxation and central endorphin release. Despite the scepticism of a few, acupuncture is fast becoming an established part of conventional medicine.

From Dr Andrew Hamilton, Unst, Shetland

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