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NICE approves acupuncture

NICE has now approved acupuncture for back pain and says it should be widely available on the NHS for people whose back pain has lasted more than six weeks. This is mainly in the light of the recent large-scale trials in Germany, which show that it is effective for this purpose. What these studies also show is that it appears to make no difference where or how deeply the needles are inserted. We therefore still can't rule out the possibility that acupuncture is a complicated placebo, though, if it is, it is certainly an effective one for some indications.

I have long believed and taught that it makes little difference in many cases where the needles are placed. As for the placebo question, there are interesting philosophical issues about how doctors think about placebos. I have a paper coming out on this in the forthcoming issue of Acupuncture in Medicine. Incidentally, this journal is now one of the specialist publications of the BMJ.

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