I like to keep an eye on the studies that have been published regarding acupuncture therapy, and will sometimes mention them in this blog if they have been published in a respected peer-reviewed journal.
Anyone with an interest in this area will understand that acupuncture does not lend itself well to the standard randomised controlled model, not only because it is hard to provide a true placebo in such studies (sham acupuncture, where the skin is pricked, can cause physiologic effects). We should also consider the fact that acupuncturists usually work as self-employed individuals who don’t have the massive amount of money or time to undertake trials with significant numbers of people with one particular health condition. In addition, a good acupuncturist will direct treatment at the underlying imbalance and not simply mask signs and symptoms, although of course we hope that these will right themselves as treatment progresses.
Treatment should be tailored to the individual and one particular set of acupuncture points that are effective in one person may not be in another. Ascertaining the correct treatment plan for each individual is reliant on the skills and experience of the acupuncturist and this runs counter current to studies that require everyone receive the same points at the same time intervals.
Creating a good acupuncture treatment reminds me in some ways of cooking someone a good meal. Cooking requires an understanding of the ingredients, how they work alone and together, the science of measurement and process in terms of amounts of ingredients, how they are prepared, and heated. However, give six chefs the same ingredients and recipe and we will end up with six very different meals. The results depend in some part on the artistry of the chef. We can consider cooking as a mixture of science and art and in the same way so can acupuncture. As acupuncturists we have the same ingredients to work with in the form of acupuncture points), the same tools in our needles and moxa, extensive training tells us how best to use these tools, but the treatments we provide our patients can be very different and their effectiveness can also vary.