Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED

ResearchBlogging.org
 

What does elaborate placebo mean?

An elaborate placebo is a placebo that does better than a pill, or injection, apparently because the patient has more invested in the belief the placebo will work. An injection of a placebo (saline solution) may be more effective than a pill of real pain medicine because of the ceremony involved in giving the placebo through IV (IntraVenous) access. A placebo that is more expensive tends to have more of an effect than a less expensive placebo.[1],[2]

Acupuncture requires a lot of investment on the part of the patient. A more elaborate placebo might be fire walking. I don’t know of any research on fire walking as a treatment for pain, but I would not be surprised if it is extremely effective.
 

fire walking 1
Image credit. Do not try at home.
 

We know that acupuncture is just a placebo because research shows that sham (fake/placebo) acupuncture works just as well as real acupuncture. Sham acupuncture generally means using toothpicks (rather than needles), not penetrating the skin, but always using locations that are not qi points.[3],[4] There is also a study using fake needles at the qi points.[5] *

If the essence of acupuncture is the magic of the qi points, but the same effect is produced when staying away from the qi points, the qi points are not doing anything.

This study did not use a sham acupuncture group. We have no reason to expect real acupuncture to provide more pain relief than sham acupuncture, so how should we use this information?

Should we have people providing fake acupuncture in the ED (Emergency Department)?

If so, how should we do this?

Since it is not the acupuncture, but the patient’s reaction to the ceremony of the placebo that appears to be providing the pain relief, how many different ways might we vary the treatment to improve the placebo effect?

Should we set up a fire walking pit?

What are the ethical concerns of using placebo medicine, when the placebo appears to provide similar, but safer, relief than real medicine?

What are the ethical concerns of using deception to treat patients?
 

Acupuncture versus intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the emergency department 1 with caption
 

Overall, 89 patients (29.3%) experienced minor adverse effects: 85 (56.6%) in morphine group and 4 (2.6%) in acupuncture group; the difference was signi ficant between the 2 groups (Table 3). The most frequent adverse effect was dizziness in the morphine group (42%) and needle breakage in the acupuncture group (2%). No major adverse effect was recorded during the study protocol. (See Table 4.)[6]

 

If we ignore the problems with this study and with the problem of lying to patients to make them feel better, can we expect research journals to look more like alternative medicine magazines with article titles like –

How to lie to patients, so that . . . .

What is the best scam to relieve pain?

How much integrity do we sacrifice?

Since the ED does not appear to be the source of the increase in opioid addiction, should we sacrifice any integrity in pursuit of placebo treatments?

We have an epidemic of opioid addiction because of excessive prescriptions for long-term pain.

The answer is not to try to create an epidemic of magical thinking.
 

This paper was also covered by –

Emergency Medicine Literature of Note

NEJM Journal Watch Emergency Medicine

Life in the Fast Lane

Science-Based Medicine

And thank you to Dr. Ryan Radecki of Emergency Medicine Literature of Note for providing me with a copy of the paper.

Footnotes:

[1] Placebo effect of medication cost in Parkinson disease: a randomized double-blind study.
Espay AJ, Norris MM, Eliassen JC, Dwivedi A, Smith MS, Banks C, Allendorfer JB, Lang AE, Fleck DE, Linke MJ, Szaflarski JP.
Neurology. 2015 Feb 24;84(8):794-802. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001282. Epub 2015 Jan 28.
PMID: 25632091

Free Full Text from PubMed Central
 

CONCLUSION: Expensive placebo significantly improved motor function and decreased brain activation in a direction and magnitude comparable to, albeit less than, levodopa. Perceptions of cost are capable of altering the placebo response in clinical studies.

[2] Commercial features of placebo and therapeutic efficacy.
Waber RL, Shiv B, Carmon Z, Ariely D.
JAMA. 2008 Mar 5;299(9):1016-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.299.9.1016. No abstract available.
PMID: 18319411

Free Full Text in PDF format from Duke.edu
 

These results are consistent with described phenomena of commercial variables affecting quality expectations1 and expectations influencing therapeutic efficacy.4 Placebo responses to commercial features have many potential clinical implications. For example, they may help explain the popularity of high-cost medical therapies (eg, cyclooxygenase 2 inhibitors) over inexpensive, widely available alternatives (eg, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and why patients switching from branded medications may report that their generic equivalents are less effective.

[3] Acupuncture for Menopausal Hot Flashes: A Randomized Trial.
Ee C, Xue C, Chondros P, Myers SP, French SD, Teede H, Pirotta M.
Ann Intern Med. 2016 Feb 2;164(3):146-54. doi: 10.7326/M15-1380. Epub 2016 Jan 19.
PMID: 26784863

Free Full Text in PDF format from carolinashealthcare.org

 

CONCLUSION: Chinese medicine acupuncture was not superior to noninsertive sham acupuncture for women with moderately severe menopausal HFs.

 

[4] A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain.
Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Avins AL, Erro JH, Ichikawa L, Barlow WE, Delaney K, Hawkes R, Hamilton L, Pressman A, Khalsa PS, Deyo RA.
Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 11;169(9):858-66. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.65.
PMID: 19433697

Free Full Text from PubMed Central
 

In conclusion, acupuncture-like treatments significantly improved function in persons with chronic low back pain. However, the finding that benefits of real acupuncture needling were no greater than those of non-insertive stimulation raises questions about acupuncture’s purported mechanism of action.

 

[5] Acupuncture for treatment of persistent arm pain due to repetitive use: a randomized controlled clinical trial.
Goldman RH, Stason WB, Park SK, Kim R, Schnyer RN, Davis RB, Legedza AT, Kaptchuk TJ.
Clin J Pain. 2008 Mar-Apr;24(3):211-8.
PMID: 18287826

* Correction 01-08-2019 – I was wrong to include this study in those that used fake qi points. In this study real acupuncture sites were used, but not real needles, so this study only examined the justification for using needles, not the effect of the locations. The other studies[3],[4] did use fake acupuncture locations and did show that the location also does not matter.

In a twist that the acupuncturist cannot explain, the patients outcomes were significantly better in the group that did not use real needles.
 

The sham group improved significantly more than the true acupuncture group during the treatment period, but this advantage was not sustained 1 month after treatment ended. The difference in pain between sham and true acupuncture groups at the end of treatment (0.75 points on 10-point scale), although statistically significant, probably does not represent a clinically discernible difference.

 

[6] Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED.
Grissa MH, Baccouche H, Boubaker H, Beltaief K, Bzeouich N, Fredj N, Msolli MA, Boukef R, Bouida W, Nouira S.
Am J Emerg Med. 2016 Jul 20. pii: S0735-6757(16)30422-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2016.07.028. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 27475042

ClinicalTrials.gov page for this study.

Grissa, M., Baccouche, H., Boubaker, H., Beltaief, K., Bzeouich, N., Fredj, N., Msolli, M., Boukef, R., Bouida, W., & Nouira, S. (2016). Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED The American Journal of Emergency Medicine DOI: 10.1016/j.ajem.2016.07.028

Espay, A., Norris, M., Eliassen, J., Dwivedi, A., Smith, M., Banks, C., Allendorfer, J., Lang, A., Fleck, D., Linke, M., & Szaflarski, J. (2015). Placebo effect of medication cost in Parkinson disease: A randomized double-blind study Neurology, 84 (8), 794-802 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001282

Waber RL, Shiv B, Carmon Z, Ariely D. (2008). Commercial Features of Placebo and Therapeutic Efficacy JAMA, 299 (9) DOI: 10.1001/jama.299.9.1016

Ee, C., Xue, C., Chondros, P., Myers, S., French, S., Teede, H., & Pirotta, M. (2016). Acupuncture for Menopausal Hot Flashes Annals of Internal Medicine, 164 (3) DOI: 10.7326/M15-1380

Cherkin, D., Sherman, K., Avins, A., Erro, J., Ichikawa, L., Barlow, W., Delaney, K., Hawkes, R., Hamilton, L., Pressman, A., Khalsa, P., & Deyo, R. (2009). A Randomized Trial Comparing Acupuncture, Simulated Acupuncture, and Usual Care for Chronic Low Back Pain Archives of Internal Medicine, 169 (9) DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.65

Goldman, R., Stason, W., Park, S., Kim, R., Schnyer, R., Davis, R., Legedza, A., & Kaptchuk, T. (2008). Acupuncture for Treatment of Persistent Arm Pain Due to Repetitive Use The Clinical Journal of Pain, 24 (3), 211-218 DOI: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e31815ec20f

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Comments

  1. Well, if you call it Therapeutic Sensory Pain Relief, it’s at least as viable as many other forms of treatment, without the “side effects”. In any case there are multiple treatments whose efficacy is at best questionable (stents) and at best outright useless (knee scoping, spinal fusion). Calling it “sham” prejudices the matter.

    • Well, if you call it Therapeutic Sensory Pain Relief, it’s at least as viable as many other forms of treatment, without the “side effects”.

      Acupuncture?

      Acupuncture has side effects, just fewer than real medicine.

      Placebo?

      Placebo has side effects, just fewer than real medicine.

      In any case there are multiple treatments whose efficacy is at best questionable (stents) and at best outright useless (knee scoping, spinal fusion).

      Do you have any papers that show that stents do not work for STEMI or that spinal fusion does not improve outcomes?

      I have provided several studies that demonstrate that acupuncture is just a distracting show and not a medical treatment.

      Acupuncture relies on deception. Acupuncturists claim that stimulating the qi points will provide some medical benefit, but that is dishonest.

      Calling it “sham” prejudices the matter.

      Sham acupuncture is an imitation that is able to fool the patient, and since acupuncture is just a way to fool patients, the results are just as good with the sham acupuncture as with the real acupuncture.

      It doesn’t matter where we put the needles.

      It doesn’t matter if the needles are needles.

      It doesn’t matter if the toothpicks (the fake needles) puncture the skin.

      The results are the same, but without the risks of pneumothorax, infection, bleeding, or the other side effects of acupuncture.

      Fake acupuncture and what the acupuncturists claim is genuine both produce the same results. Sometimes, the fake acupuncture is better than the real acupuncture.

      Should we be lying to patients?

      Once we start lying to patients, where do we stop?

      .

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