Acupunture is a bit of a classic. It's got needles, history (the chinese were apparently using it 14 billion years ago), drama, excitement, mysticism, religiousity and theatre all rolled up into one non-offensive therapy. The question, as always, is does it show any benefit over placebo?.
Well, that depends not on the results but on the newspaper you read. A well-documented story in the paper last week (covered by Ben Goldacre in his excellent Bad Science column in the Saturday Guardian) gave details of research that suggested that acupuncture was better than no acupuncture, but no better than random pin insertion. I'm not going to cover it here - the full dialogue on the Bad Science website is well worth the read.
So that's "Strike 2".
Strike 3 is very similar to strike 2, and actually means a lot more to me personally. (Can you believe it has taken this long for me to get to the point of why I'm writing this? Must learn to be more succinct.)
Despite being 30 years old, both my hips are crumbling as we speak due to osteoarthritis. Bummer. Nothing outside very invasive surgery will do anything for it - science fact. That doesn't stop everyone telling you that chondroitin will re-hipify you or that without glucosamine you will die before dawn.
The experience has given me insight into why people are taken victim to these therapies despite any proof of cure (outwith placebo) - when there is little hope, any hope (regardless of what it involves) shines brightly.
And so to the study; it was a randomised multi-centre controlled trial to investigate the benefit of adding acupuncture to a course of advice and exercise delivered by physiotherapists for pain reduction in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.(Published in BMJ 2007;335(7617):436 (1 September) - abstract here) They took three groups; Advice and exercise (n=116), advice and exercise plus true acupuncture (n=117), and advice and exercise plus non-penetrating acupuncture (n=119). Have a look at the abstract for the details, the whole article is behind a paywall. The conclusions are as follows:
The addition of acupuncture to a course of advice and exercise for osteoarthritis of the knee delivered by physiotherapists provided no additional improvement in pain scores. Small benefits in pain intensity and unpleasantness were observed in both acupuncture groups, making it unlikely that this was due to acupuncture needling effects.
Strike 3 - out?