The Emperors sham - wrong assumption that sham needling is sham

Acupunct Med. 2008 Dec;26(4):239-42. doi: 10.1136/aim.26.4.239.


During the last five years a large number of randomised controlled clinical trials (RCTs) have been published on the efficacy of acupuncture in different conditions. In most of these studies verum is compared with sham acupuncture. In general both verum and sham have been found to be effective, and often with little reported difference in outcome. This has repeatedly led to the conclusion that acupuncture is no more effective than placebo treatment. However, this conclusion is based on the assumption that sham acupuncture is inert. Since sham acupuncture evidently is merely another form of acupuncture from the physiological perspective, the assumption that sham is sham is incorrect and conclusions based on this assumption are therefore invalid. Clinical guidelines based on such conclusions may therefore exclude suffering patients from valuable treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Points*
  • Acupuncture Therapy / methods
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Needles
  • Placebo Effect
  • Placebos*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic*
  • Research Design


  • Placebos