Sham acupuncture is any form of fake acupuncture, used so that researchers can test whether benefits from the traditional acupuncture may be due to a placebo affect.

For the study, lead researcher Rana S Hinman from the University of Melbourne and colleagues randomly assigned 282 patients (50 years or older) with chronic knee pain to needle acupuncture, laser acupuncture and sham laser acupuncture.

Treatments were delivered for 12 weeks. Participants and acupuncturists were blinded to laser and sham laser acupuncture.

There were no significant differences in primary outcomes (measures of knee pain and physical function) between laser and sham laser acupuncture at 12 weeks.

Both needle and laser acupuncture resulted in modest improvements in pain compared with control at 12 weeks that were not maintained at one year.

Most secondary outcomes (other pain and function measures, quality of life, global change and one-year follow-up) showed no difference.

The study appeared in the JAMA journal.

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