It looks like the National Health Service might soon be willing to provide acupuncture for suffers of back pain, thanks to guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
What is acupuncture?
Essentially its the notion that disease or other problems are caused by your qi (read: magical body energies) being out of whack. This out-of-whackness can be corrected by inserting needles into specific meridians (read: magic qi pathways) to reflow the qi energies.
Today however we know the actual causes of disease, and there's no magic qi involved.
So what do the studies show?
Studying acupuncture is actually fairly difficult as its problematic to develop way to blind the tests, and decent placebo controls are difficult to achieve. However some recent studies have been well designed to take these into account.
Typically they would comprise of four groups. One group getting real acupuncture, with the needles being inserted into the magic qi pathways, a second group getting fake acupuncture, by having the needles inserted randomly. A third group having no needles inserted, for example having cocktail sticks pressed against the skin without penetrating it, this group acts as the placebo control. And finally a forth group getting no treatment.
What do the results look like? For starters inserting needles in the actual acupuncture meridians show no difference to inserting them randomly. This tells us that the whole qi thing is bunk - but anyone with two brain cells would have guessed that anyway, considering we actually know how the body works today and we don't just make things up randomly. Importantly however jabbing people with cocktail sticks without breaking the skin produces the same results as the real and fake acupuncture. What does this tell us? That acupuncture is no better than placebo.
What does that mean? It means it doesn't work.
Complimentary and alternative medicine have no place in today's society. But they're nice sounding right? Wrong, by definition they don't work. If they did work they would simply be called medicine. Getting people to think there's anything alternative about any of these "treatments" is one of the biggest marketing achievements in history.
If the NHS are going to do this - let me suggest a cheaper and safer alternative. Paul's ancient mystical art of cocktail stick jabbing - all the same effects as acupuncture - but safer as there's no risk of infection from breaking the skin, plus I'll do it for half the price these acupuncture whack jobs will charge you. The only difference? My marketing department isn't as well funded.