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Reflections on the German Acupuncture Studies

By Stephen Birch


When clinical research studies are undertaken it is important to know why the studies were done and for whom. Sometimes the reasons and target audience for a study become confused as researchers try to answer different questions for different reasons in the same study. Additionally, in acupuncture trials there have been calls for many years to ensure that the tested treatment is valid and that an appropriate control is used, with various recommendations about study design requirements depending upon the type of question and study. it is my contention that these big German studies on low back pain, migraine, tension headaches and osteoarthritis of the knee raise many questions and give rise to contradictory interpretations of results, lingering controversies and unresolved question.

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Many thanks to Stephen Birch and The Journal of Chinese Medicine. This article, first published in The Journal of Chinese Medicine, issue 83 February 2007, is reprinted by kind permission of the publishers (

Stephen Birch has a BA in philosophy (1978). He started studying acupuncture at the New England School of Acupuncture in Boston in the US in 1980. His initial teachers were Tin Yau So, Ted Kaptchuk and Kiiko Matsumoto. Since graduation in 1982, he has practiced Japanese acupuncture exclusively, including specialty pediatric treatment methods called ‘shonishin’. With the exception of the time where he was away studying, he has practiced acupuncture continuously since 1982. Stephen is an internationally known instructor in Japanese style acupuncture methods, including the advanced methods of Toyohari – East Asian Needle Therapy, lecturing around Europe (Holland, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia, Austria). He is also Associate Professor at the Oslo University College of Acupuncture and has been involved in acupuncture research since the late 1980s with a PhD on acupuncture research (1998).

He is co-author of seven books about acupuncture, five dedicated to the practice of Japanese acupuncture, including Five Elements and Ten Stems, Extraordinary Vessels, Hara Diagnosis Reflections on the Sea, Chasing the Dragon’s Tail, Japanese Acupuncture, Understanding Acupuncture, and Acupuncture Efficacy.

The Japanese Acupuncture Center