Acupuncture without the puncture helped relieve back pain in a new study, Reuters reports. Researchers divided patients with chronic back pain into several groups and discovered that the groups who received conventional acupuncture with needles and those who received simulated acupuncture with toothpicks reported greater—and almost identical—pain relief compared to those who received standard medical care.
The researchers couldn't pinpoint what it was about the real and simulated acupuncture that caused the pain relief, although they cited other research showing that even lightly touching the skin can induce hormonal reactions, and speculated that even light stimulation of acupuncture points could be enough to make a difference. "Historically, some types of acupuncture have used non-penetrating needles," one researcher said. "Such treatments may involve physiological effects that make a clinical difference." (Read more acupuncture stories.)