Medpage Today reports:
In a dual between two placebos for treating self-reported arm pain, the better placebo emerged victorious, Harvard researchers have found. They attributed it to the placebo effect.
During the first two weeks of the comparative study, there was little difference between sham acupuncture and a sugar pill, investigators reported in today in BMJ Online. However, differences began to emerge during the following weeks showing that sham acupuncture produced a more enhanced and surprisingly lasting placebo effect.
A longitudinal regression analysis that followed patients through the study period showed that pain scores per week declined significantly more in the sham acupuncture group than in the sugar pill group.
The study by Dr. Kaptchuk and colleagues showed that the patients who reported improvements in symptoms were also those who believed they were getting an active treatment. At two weeks, 75% of the participants in the sham acupuncture group said they were receiving an active treatment compared with only 48% of the sugar pill group, indicating that believing may be key to feeling better. There were no significant differences between function and grip strength between the two groups. These findings suggest that the medical ritual of a device can deliver an enhanced placebo effect beyond that of a placebo pill.