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author:  Dr. Richard Zeng C.M.

What is a sham acupuncture needle?

A sham acupuncture needle is a type of placebo device used in research studies to create a control group for acupuncture trials. A sham needle is designed to mimic the sensation of needle insertion without penetrating the skin or stimulating specific acupuncture points.

There are different types of sham needles. They have their own method of simulating acupuncture without delivering the therapeutic effects with real needling. Here are a few examples:

Streitberger Placebo Acupuncture Needle

Streitberger placebo needles

Streitberger placebo needle: This type of sham needle consists of a blunt tip that retracts into the handle upon contact with the skin. It gives the sensation of needle penetration without actually piercing the skin.

park device - sham acupuncture needlesPark sham device: The Park sham device resembles a real acupuncture needle, but it has a blunt tip and a sheath that covers the needle, preventing skin penetration during insertion.

Non-penetrating needle: This type of sham needle has a blunt tip and does not penetrate the skin. It may have a collapsible handle or other mechanisms to create the sensation of needle insertion.

non-penetrating needles

non-penetrating needles

Toothpick or placebo needle: In some cases, a toothpick or a specifically designed placebo needle that does not penetrate the skin is used as a sham control. This provides a tactile sensation similar to acupuncture but without actual needling.

What are shame needles used for?

The purpose of using sham acupuncture needles is to create a control group that experiences a placebo treatment closely resembling real acupuncture. By comparing the outcomes of the real acupuncture group with the sham acupuncture group, researchers can assess the specific effects of acupuncture beyond placebo or non-specific effects. The use of sham needles helps control for placebo responses and improves the validity of the study results.

Sham needles creates some stimulation as real needles too

Sham acupuncture needles are designed to create a sensory experience similar to real needles. They provide a placebo-like stimulation. While they do not penetrate the skin or stimulate specific acupuncture points, they are intended to mimic the sensation of needle insertion and create a tactile experience for the recipient.

As sham acupuncture needles contact the skin, the sensation they created can be part of acupuncture sensation

The sensory experience created by sham needles, including the tactile sensation when they come into contact with the skin, can be considered part of the overall acupuncture sensation. Sham acupuncture is designed to mimic the physical aspects of real acupuncture, including the feeling of needle insertion and the associated sensations that patients may expect during an acupuncture treatment.

Sham acupuncture is not real placebo

While sham acupuncture is designed to serve as a placebo control in research studies, it is not a true placebo in the strict sense.

A true placebo would be an inert substance or intervention that has no specific physiological effects.

While sham acupuncture is intended to mimic certain aspects of real acupuncture, it does have some similar sensory experience and the ritualistic aspects of real treatment.

Sham acupuncture may still elicit non-specific effects, such as the placebo response, which can influence participants’ perception of the treatment’s effectiveness. Additionally, the sensory experience of sham needles, even though it does not involve needle penetration or stimulation of specific acupuncture points, can have its own distinct effects on the body and may activate certain physiological responses.

While sham acupuncture attempts to control for placebo effects and other non-specific factors, it is important to recognise that it is not a true placebo. It serves as a method to isolate and evaluate the specific effects of acupuncture beyond these non-specific influences, but it does not completely eliminate all potential confounding factors.