researchers can use the Von Korff Chronic Pain Grade Scale questionnaire and the back-specific Hanover Functional Ability Questionnaire (for back pain studies) to measure changes in back pain after various kinds of treatment. For example, a randomized, blinded study involving over 1,100 subjects with chronic back pain were given different treatments and evaluated after six months using both the Von Korff and the Hanover instruments. The study compared treatment by (1) acupuncture using traditional acupuncture points and methods, (2) acupuncture that used non-traditional points and methods (the needles weren't inserted as deeply or twirled as in traditional acupuncture, and (3) treatment involving drugs, exercise, and physical therapy. About twice as many in the groups stuck with needles responded to the treatment as in the non-needle group. It did not matter whether they were stuck in traditional points using traditional methods or in non-standard points using non-traditional methods. About 45% responded in these groups compared to about 25% in the group treated with drugs, exercise, and physical therapy. According to the BBC:
The researchers, from the Ruhr University Bochum, say their findings suggest that the body may react positively to any thin needle [censored] - or that acupuncture may simply trigger a placebo effect.*
The results of this and another study that found no difference in response from those getting so-called verum (or "true") acupuncture and so-called minimal (or "sham") provide evidence against the accuracy of the traditional Chinese meridians map. It doesn't seem to matter where you stick the needles or whether you stick them in deeply or twirl them. But those with back pain who get stuck with needles respond at a significantly higher rate to the treatment than those who do not get needled. The concept of chi seems superfluous in this context.
That the effect is likely a placebo effect is supported by the results of another recent study done at Linköping University in Sweden involving "215 patients with various types of cancer who got either active acupuncture or a sham treatment that involved an identical looking and feeling needle that retracted into the handle on contact with the skin."* This method prevents the patients from knowing whether they've actually been stuck with a needle. The patients were given conventional radiotherapy during the trials. Many believers in acupuncture think it is effective in relieving nausea. Both the verum and the sham groups believed the treatment had been invasive and effective in reducing nausea: "68 percent of patients who got the acupuncture experienced nausea for an average of 19 days during radiotherapy and 61 percent of the patients who got the sham treatment suffered nausea for an average of 17 days....Vomiting was experienced by 24 percent of the patients getting acupuncture and 28 percent of patients receiving the sham treatment....Fifty-eight of the patients received chemotherapy in combination with radiotherapy. Among them, 82 percent of those in the acupuncture group developed nausea, compared with 80 percent of those treated with the sham needles....66 percent of patients who got acupuncture and 71 percent who got the sham treatment said they would be highly interested in having acupuncture again if it turned out they needed another course of radiotherapy." The differences between the two groups are not statistically significant. These results strongly suggest that acupuncture provides a placebo effect.
Some of the acupuncture studies supported by the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health try to mimic traditional control group studies, but no control study will reveal if chi was unblocked or if yin and yang are in or out of harmony.