Background: The randomized controlled trial (RCT) is considered the 'gold standard' methodology for evaluating efficacy of an intervention. It has been argued that RCTs cannot be used to examine the effectiveness of acupuncture.
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine the applicability of an RCT study design for acupuncture research.
Findings: RCTs would be more effective in studying acupuncture if study participants were randomized to groups based on the acupuncture diagnosis and not solely on the Western diagnostic criteria. Treatments must also be standardized somewhat to ensure replicability of the study and the information it provides. Blinding is not absolutely necessary for a good-quality RCT; however, if used, control groups need to be standardized and sham techniques evaluated to ensure accurate interpretation of results.
Conclusions: With these factors combined, it is possible to greatly increase internal and external validity in acupuncture RCTs.