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Placebo Control and Placebo Effect in Acupuncture Medicine
침구의학에서 플라시보 대조군과 플라시보 효과
Korean J Acupunct 2018;35:47-55
Published online June 27, 2018;
© 2018 Society for Meridian and Acupoint.

Younbyoung Chae1 , Paul Enck2
채윤병1ㆍ엔크 폴2

1Acupuncture & Meridian Science Research Center, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University,
2Department of Internal Medicine, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University of Tübingen

1경희대학교 한의과대학 침구경락융합연구센터, 2튀빙겐대학교 내과, 정신신체의학과 심리치료학
Correspondence to: Younbyoung Chae
Acupuncture & Meridian Science Research Center, College of Korean Medicine, Kyung Hee University, 1 Hoegi-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul 02447, Korea
Tel: +82-2-961-2208, Fax: +82-2-963-2175, E-mail:
Received June 13, 2018; Revised June 19, 2018; Accepted June 19, 2018.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Objectives: Clinical improvements can be observed following placebo administrations in clinical trials. Randomized controlled trials have been conducted to disentangle the specific effects of therapeutic interventions over the past decade. In acupuncture trials, non-penetrating placebo needles offer the opportunity to determine the specific effects of needling. Methods: The present review provides an overview of the concept of the placebo effect and the characteristics of the placebo needles. Results: Placebo control can contribute to minimize for bias and the contextual and psychological components of therapeutic interventions. Placebo control should meet two criteria: blinding efficacy (indistinguishable from active treatment) and physiological inertness. In the case of acupuncture, however, it is difficult to meet both criteria simultaneously. The dilemma of placebo needles suggests that placebo needles do not constitute proper control in acupuncture research. Considering the characteristics of placebo needles, patients are more likely to perceive placebo needles as active treatment in acupuncture trials compared to placebo pills in pharmaceutical trials. Placebo response might be observed more frequently to placebo needles than to placebo pills. When acupuncture treatments are utilized in clinical use, placebo effects can be enhanced by exploiting patients’ expectations in the contextual or environmental cues that surround medical intervention. Conclusions: We have to consider these unique characteristics of placebo needles in order to avoid drawing premature conclusions that acupuncture itself is just a placebo.
Keywords: acupuncture, blinding, control, expectation, placebo

June 2018, 35 (2)
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