Provider's communication style boosts results for acupuncture on arthritic knees

Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368

Traditional Chinese acupuncture involves inserting needles at specific paths of the body, called meridians, to permit the flow of vital energy and relieve pain. A new study finds that patients who underwent authentic and simulated (fake) acupuncture for arthritis in their knees experienced similar pain relief. However, patients whose acupuncturists expressed optimism that the treatment would be beneficial had slightly better results than patients whose providers were more wishy-washy about the possible treatment outcome.

The 238 patients of acupuncturists who conveyed high expectations by using phrases such as, "I think this will work for you," had slightly less pain and greater satisfaction with their providers than the 242 patients whose acupuncturists used neutral phrases like, "It may or may not work for you." For instance, at 6 weeks, 41.2 percent of patients in the high expectations group had a 50 percent improvement in their pain scores compared with 33.6 percent of patients in the neutral group. At 3 months, 35.4 percent of patients in the high expectations group reported 50 percent improvement in their pain scores compared with 27.5 percent of patients in the neutral group.

Because patients in the actual and fake acupuncture groups reported similar improvement, a placebo effect related to the acupuncturist's communication style may have affected patients' perceived benefits of acupuncture, according to Maria E. Suarez-Almazor, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and colleagues. Their study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS16093).

See "A randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for osteoarthritis of the knee: Effects of patient-provider communication," by Dr. Suarez-Almazor, Carol Looney, M.S., C.H.E.S., YanFang Liu, M.D., and others in the September 2010 Arthritis Care & Research 62(9), pp. 1229-1236.

Current as of April 2011
Internet Citation: Provider's communication style boosts results for acupuncture on arthritic knees: Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368. April 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsletters/research-activities/apr11/0411RA11.html