Blog Post

Serious Limitations Found in New Acupressure Study

A recent study claiming that acupressure reduced pain by 35-36 percent in acupressure groups is receiving criticism for its limited scope.

According to the abstract, the study examined preliminary effects of two types of self-administered acupressure on fatigue, pain, sleep and reported disability. Randomized participants underwent six weeks of relaxing acupressure, stimulating acupressure, or usual care.

According to Science Daily, researchers say two groups of participants in the study were trained to administer acupressure on certain points of the body for 27-30 minutes daily over the course of six weeks. Another group was asked to continue whatever treatments they were currently receiving to manage their back pain and resultant fatigue.

"Compared to the usual care group, we found that people who performed stimulating acupressure experienced pain and fatigue improvement and those that performed relaxing acupressure felt their pain had improved after six weeks," said Susan Lynn Murphy, ScD, OTR, lead author of the study.

She added, "We found no differences among the groups in terms of sleep quality or disability after the six weeks."

So does this mean that acupressure works?

No. According to Clay Jones, MD, writing for Science-based Medicine, this study had quite a few limitations that need to be noted. For example, there were only 67 subjects tested and all were sufferers of chronic lower back pain. Because they were recruited using flyers and newspaper ads, this heightens the chance that the participants were already believers in acupressure of one of its relatives such as acupuncture. The three groups were also randomly split into three groups without blinding.

“The results were, as expected, consistent with either the introduction of a novel therapy, and perhaps the expectation of benefit in primed subjects, without proper blinding,” Dr. Jones writes. “The acupressure was found to be safe, so at least there is that. It’s unfortunate that a legitimate journal published this study. After all, there are already thousands of preliminary studies out there showing weak results like this, even involving self-administered acupressure for chronic low back pain. If I didn’t know any better, I’d worry that the whole point is just to mass produce positive results.”

The study also did nothing to prove the existence of the “meridians” that correspond with acupuncture points. These channels supposedly facilitate the flow of an alleged universal life force energy throughout the body. To date, there is simply no evidence that this energy – or the channels – even exist, which is the definition of what many would call a “fatal flaw” in the whole discussion about acupressure and/or acupuncture. This article, written in August of 2019, by Yale neurosurgeon Steven Novella, MD, explains this in greater detail.

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