Acupuncture, expectations, and results.





Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Pain Management
Professional Data: Pain Management


Massage therapy does not just help to relax muscles. This type of therapy can assist in reducing the heart rate, improve circulation and range of motion, and lessen the feelings of stress and anxiety. Massage can be beneficial for asthma, arthritis, insomnia, migraines, some sports injuries, and even chronic back pain.1 The area of therapeutic massage is one that is growing rapidly.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that involves piercing strategic points on the body with needles. This is a relatively painless procedure and is performed by a licensed acupuncturist. While this practice has been used in China for over 2,000 years, its use in the United States is relatively new. Acupuncture is one element of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes other modalities such as herbal therapies and massage. It is difficult for people born and raised in a culture like the United States to understand how Traditional Chinese Medicine works because it is a complex and complicated medical system that uses theories and practices that Westerners are not used to. For this reason, acceptance by the medical profession has been slow. However, consistent reports of success using acupuncture for specific purposes have gained attention.

A recent study was published in the June issue of the journal Spine that looked at how a patient's expectations can affect the outcome of their acupuncture treatment. 135 patients suffering from chronic lower back pain were followed for 10 weeks. Their back pain was treated by either acupuncture or massage therapy. Prior to the beginning of the study period, the individuals were asked to describe the expected level of helpfulness of each treatment on a scale from 1 to 10. After the 10-week study, researchers observed that 86% of the patients that had higher expectations of the treatments had improved function. In the group that had lower expectations, only 68% showed improvement. Patients that expected greater results from one particular treatment were more likely to experience better outcomes from that treatment. This study proposes that the individual's expectations may influence the outcome of the treatment, which in turn may offer an explanation for why individual outcomes from identical treatments may vary.2


1. Hernandez RM. Lower back pain is reduced and range of motion increased after massage therapy. Int J Neurosci. Jan-2001; 106(3-4): 131-45.
2. Kalauokalani D. Lessons from a trial of acupuncture and massage for low back pain: patient expectations and treatment effects. Spine.Jul-2001; 26(13): 1418-24.