In the study, arthritis sufferers were broken into three groups. All three groups had modern therapies including drugs, but the second two had acupuncture treatments in addition to the regular therapies. Of the two groups receiving acupuncture, one group received 'correct' acupuncture, the other received 'incorrect' acupuncture, or what is sometimes referred to as 'sham point' acupuncture.
In the end, both groups getting stuck with needles reported pain reductions. The conclusion of NPR's medical expert was that the process of receiving the extra care, time with their caregiver and the extra attention from medical staff in general is probably a likely factor in the pain reduction.
The report on NPR's website has an interesting lede:
Study: Acupuncture Helps with Joint Pain
The small text blurb that accompanies the audio story reads as thus:
A medical study conducted in Germany shows that acupuncture might help with joint pain -- but it's not necessarily the needles that do the work.
First off, for those that didn't catch the obvious, the headline says that acupuncture helps with joint pain, then the text says that it might help with joint pain, but it might not be the puncture part of acupuncture that's doing the work. I did a quick check of the dictionary definition of acupuncture, and it read as thus, from Dictionary.com:
A procedure used in or adapted from Chinese medical practice in which specific body areas are pierced with fine needles for therapeutic purposes or to relieve pain or produce regional anesthesia.
My interpretation from this definition is that needles are really the central part of acupuncture. I'm sorry, but if I walk into an acupuncturist and she does everything but stick needles in me, and then if I get better, she later claims that it was the acupuncture that fixed me, I'm going to wonder why we're bothering with needles altogether.
The point being that if acupuncture is about the needles and specifically the needles being inserted into the 'correct' points then one is left wondering what acupuncture is if NPR publicizes a study as affirming the effects of acupuncture but concludes it has nothing to do with the needles. I'm perplexed...