Acupuncture vs. Sham Acupuncture for Anxiety

acupuncture therapy bradenton, florida

Acupuncture has long been a subject of intrigue and investigation for its potential to alleviate anxiety, but a lesser-known player in this field is “Sham Acupuncture.” This article delves into the realm of acupuncture and its placebo counterpart, exploring their key differences and, more importantly, their effectiveness in managing anxiety. 

As the quest for alternative treatments to combat anxiety continues to gain momentum, we will unravel the science behind these two needle-based approaches, shedding light on whether the simulated sensations of Sham Acupuncture can indeed rival the ancient art of acupuncture in providing relief for those grappling with anxiety.


What Is Sham Acupuncture?

Sham acupuncture, often referred to as placebo acupuncture, is a control procedure used in acupuncture research. In placebo acupuncture, non-penetrating or superficial needling is employed, designed to mimic the sensation of real acupuncture without stimulating the body’s traditional acupuncture points. This approach helps researchers investigate the specific therapeutic effects of true acupuncture by eliminating some of the psychological and physiological placebo effects.


What Is the Difference?

The fundamental difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture lies in the depth of needle insertion and the choice of acupuncture points. In genuine acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into specific points known as acupoints, which are believed to correspond to energy pathways in the body. The depth and location of needle insertion can vary depending on the patient’s condition. 

In contrast, placebo acupuncture typically involves superficial needling or needling at non-acupuncture points, reducing the potential therapeutic impact while still delivering the sensation of needling.


Does it Work for Anxiety?

The study conducted by Howard H. Moffet points out that sham acupuncture may be as efficacious as true acupuncture in certain cases. The systematic review examined clinical trials that used placebo acupuncture commands with needle insertion at wrong points or non-points. 

In this review, most of the studies found no statistically significant difference in outcomes, with 

59% of them indicating that sham acupuncture may be as efficacious as genuine acupuncture, especially when superficial needling was applied to non-points (locations that are not known acupuncture points). Therefore, based on this systematic review, it appears that acupuncture might be effective in some cases.

However, it is essential to note that the efficacy of acupuncture for treating specific conditions like anxiety may vary, and further research and clinical trials are necessary to provide a more comprehensive understanding of its effectiveness.


How Long Does Acupuncture Take to Effect for Anxiety?

Image by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Acupuncture’s effectiveness in alleviating anxiety can vary from person to person, but many individuals report experiencing relief after just a few sessions. Typically, you may start to notice a reduction in anxiety symptoms within a few weeks of regular acupuncture treatments. 

However, it’s important to remember that the exact timeline can depend on the severity of your anxiety, the skill of the acupuncturist, and the individual response to the treatment. To gauge the progress and determine the optimal duration, consult with a qualified acupuncturist who can tailor a treatment plan to your distinctive needs.


Should You Try it for Anxiety?

Trying placebo acupuncture for anxiety is a decision that should be made thoughtfully, taking into consideration several factors. It involves using placebo acupuncture techniques, which may not have the same therapeutic effects as genuine acupuncture. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to try this acupuncture for anxiety:

Efficacy of Acupuncture

Consider the existing research on acupuncture for anxiety. While genuine acupuncture has shown some promise in reducing anxiety symptoms, its effectiveness for anxiety may be limited or non-existent.

Placebo Effect

Understand that the treatment works through the placebo effect, which means that the perceived benefits might be due to the patient’s belief in the treatment rather than any physiological effects. 

Cost and Accessibility

Treatment may be more affordable and accessible compared to genuine acupuncture. Consider your budget and whether genuine acupuncture is an option for you.


Clarify your expectations with your healthcare provider. Discuss what you hope to achieve with the treatment and whether it aligns with your goals for managing anxiety.

Alternative Treatments

Explore other evidence-based treatments for anxiety. Psychotherapy, medication, mindfulness practices, and lifestyle changes are among the many options available. Compare these alternatives to the treatment in terms of efficacy and potential side effects.


Genuine acupuncture is generally safe when performed by trained professionals. However, even the treatment can have minor side effects, such as temporary discomfort at the needle insertion sites. Discuss safety concerns with a healthcare provider.

Personal Beliefs

Reflect on your personal beliefs regarding alternative therapies. Your beliefs and values can influence your willingness to explore complementary treatments, so understanding them is essential for making informed healthcare decisions.


The Bottom Line

The debate between acupuncture and sham acupuncture as treatments for anxiety continues. While sham acupuncture may not replicate the full therapeutic effects of genuine acupuncture, some studies indicate that it can offer relief, thanks to the placebo response it triggers in certain individuals. Ultimately, the choice between the two approaches depends on individual preferences, belief in the treatment, and willingness to explore alternative therapies for managing anxiety.

At Bradenton Acupuncture and Wellness, we offer acupuncture as a holistic approach to anxiety management. If you’re seeking relief and want to explore the potential benefits of acupuncture, contact us today.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *