First, let me say that I am not a huge believer in the healing power of acupuncture. I believe there is a significant placebo effect associated with acupuncture, and I know that some people who believe in the power of acupuncture report relief from some disease symptoms after receiving acupuncture. But, not having read the medical literature myself I can’t gripe too loudly about the practice’s shortcomings. I’ll leave that to others at SBM, Whats the Harm, JREF, Quackwatch, Lay Scientist, etc.
But you know what’s fun? If you start to write a google search “Acupuncture is…”, you’ll get “scam” and “bullshit” before “effective” and “safe”.
In a recent study, acupuncture did not fair any better than the placebo treatments(1). Therefore (according to this study), acupuncture does not work…at least in the sense that acupuncture proponents are trying to explain it. But fine…I like to pay exorbitant amounts of money to have people touch me all over my body (I refer to the ancient art of massage, of course. Not the ancient art of…nevermind), and if you want to pay someone to poke you with needles because you think it makes you feel better, who am I to judge?
But I get offended when a sleaze ball practitioner claims that acupuncture can do more for you than makes sense. And when those sleaze balls influence really sick people to choose acupuncture as an alternative to traditional, proven medication or medical supervision, really bad things can happen. AIDS can not be cured by acupuncture. However, Hepatitis B infection can be spread by poorly administered acupuncture.
And now Battlefield Acupuncture. I heard about battlefield acupuncture being used to treat wound pain on Mark Crislip’s Quackcast, episode 41. Why acupuncture, when one has a perfectly legitimate excuse to get morphine…? If you’ve just lost your legs, do you really need to worry about keeping a clear head? When I was browsing around the interwebs in a completely random, uncontrolled, google-ish way for more information I found a fictional scenario of battlefield acupuncture being administered in the field, written by Dr. David Gorski in 2008 for science-based medicine. He follows that up with a nice review of the information available at the time. Take it away, Dr. Gorski!
But acupuncture isn’t just for the battlefield! With Wounded Warrior Acupuncture (WWA), our honored veterans can take advantage of acupuncture to treat conditions not limited to back pain, neck pain, joint pain, neuropathies, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), insomnia, anxiety, depression, brain injuries, phantom limb pain, etc. Of course in the next paragraph, WWA is quick to point out that “our treatment is in no way intended as a replacement for medical care. WWA can be used as a complementary therapy or used as a stand-alone treatment for certain mild to moderate conditions.” Yes folks, mild-to-moderate conditions such as PTSD and associated illnesses. As long as your problem isn’t too problematic, we can take a stab at it (ha!). No gain, no foul, right?
(1) “A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture, Simulated Acupuncture, and Usual Care for Chronic Low Back Pain” Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(9):858-866 See Respectful Insolence for a very good write up of this study and the hype surrounding it.