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They also found that the effects of acupuncture decreased by about 15% after one year.
A 2010 systematic review suggested that acupuncture is more than a placebo for commonly occurring chronic pain conditions, but the authors acknowledged that it is still unknown if the overall benefit is clinically meaningful or cost-effective.
Scientist and journalist Steven Salzberg identifies acupuncture and Chinese medicine generally as a focus for "fake medical journals" such as the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies and Acupuncture in Medicine.
A 2011 systematic review of systematic reviews found that for reducing pain, real acupuncture was no better than sham acupuncture, and concluded that numerous reviews have shown little convincing evidence that acupuncture is an effective treatment for reducing pain.
A 2012 meta-analysis conducted by the Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration found "relatively modest" efficiency of acupuncture (in comparison to sham) for the treatment of four different types of chronic pain (back and neck pain, knee osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain) and on that basis concluded that it "is more than a placebo" and a reasonable referral option.
In 2017, the same research group updated their previous meta-analysis and again found acupuncture to be superior to sham acupuncture for non-specific musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain.
Often the needles are stimulated by hand in order to cause a dull, localized, aching sensation that is called de qi, as well as "needle grasp," a tugging feeling felt by the acupuncturist and generated by a mechanical interaction between the needle and skin.; "arrival of qi") refers to a sensation of numbness, distension, or electrical tingling at the needling site which might radiate along the corresponding meridian.
If de-qi can not be generated, then inaccurate location of the acupoint, improper depth of needle insertion, inadequate manual manipulation, or a very weak constitution of the patient can be considered, all of which are thought to decrease the likelihood of successful treatment.
The results of reviews of reviews of acupuncture's effectiveness, however, have been inconclusive.
A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis found that ear acupuncture may be effective at reducing pain within 48 hours of its use, but the mean difference between the acupuncture and control groups was small and that "Rigorous research is needed to establish definitive evidence".
A 2013 systematic review found that acupuncture may be effective for nonspecific lower back pain, but the authors noted there were limitations in the studies examined, such as heterogeneity in study characteristics and low methodological quality in many studies.
The tip of the needle should not be made too sharp to prevent breakage, although blunt needles cause more pain.
Japanese acupuncturists use extremely thin needles that are used superficially, sometimes without penetrating the skin, and surrounded by a guide tube (a 17th-century invention adopted in China and the West).