In this blog by Steven Novella, he says that many studies of acupuncture employ a kind of bait-and-switch tactic - which means they are studying something that is not really acupuncture but calling it acupuncture and thereby legitimizing "pure pseudoscience", he writes.
For instance, acupuncture is based in Traditional Chinese Medicine which posits the existence of a life energy that can be controlled by inserting needles into certain locations on the body known as meridians.
"No study has demonstrated that chi exists, or that acupuncture of the meridians has any specific effect," Novella writes.
In fact, acupuncture literature itself proves that it doesn't really matter where the needles are placed, or how deeply they are inserted, in order to manipulate this life force energy.
"This means that any effects of sticking acupuncture needles into a patient are non-specific – they are not related to the flow of chi. There may be some small non-specific physiological effects – such as counter-irritation reducing pain or inhibiting nausea – but even these claims remain elusive and controversial."
This means that "medical acupuncture", which believes that the results of needling certain points on the body are due to the release of chemicals in the body rather than to the manipulation of chi, is not really acupuncture at all, because it does not rely on (or even believe in) the manipulation of this unsubstantiated life force energy named chi.
Novella then refers to studies of what some refer to as "electrical acupuncture" which is the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating acupoints (meridians).
"Electrical acupuncture, however, is not acupuncture – it’s transdermal electrical stimulation [TES], which is a scientific practice that has proven efficacy in the treatment of pain. Giving transdermal electrical stimulation through acupuncture needles, calling that 'electrical acupuncture' and then using positive results to conclude that acupuncture works – is an elaborate bait and switch."
In other words, not all acupuncture is really acunpuncture. Traditional Chinese acupuncture has not fared well in laboratory tests but TES and techniques that manipulate the release of chemicals in the body do work. Calling them both by the same name, aside from being inaccurate, is very misleading to the average consumer.
This blog provides a much deeper explanation of so-called "medical acupuncture" and what is wrong with the many studies proponents are using to validate their practices.