Effect of acupuncture and instruction on physiological recovery from maximal exercise: A balanced-placebo controlled trial

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Background: This study aimed to investigate the effect of acupuncture administered immediately following a graded exercise test (GXT) on physiological measures of recovery and determine if instruction (expectancy) affected the responses. Methods: A balanced-placebo 2 × 2 factorial design was used with treatment (real vs placebo acupuncture) and instruction (told real vs told placebo acupuncture) as factors; a no-treatment control group was also included to compare the treatment responses to no treatment. Recreationally active, acupuncture naïve young adults (n = 60) performed a GXT to exhaustion on a cycle ergometer (15 W/min). Heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, respiratory rate and blood lactate were collected during the test and during 60 min of supine recovery on a plinth. An experienced acupuncturist delivered real or placebo acupuncture within 6 min of completing the GXT (total treatment time = 20 min). Real acupuncture points included Neiguan (PC6), Zusanli (ST36), Lieque (LU7), and Tanzhang (REN17), while placebo acupuncture was delivered using the Park sham needle placed 1-2 cm away from each real acupuncture point. The control group received no intervention. Results: Linear and quadratic trend analyses over time indicated no significant differences between groups on any dependent variable. However, analysis of specific timepoints (every 10 min of the 60 min recovery) revealed that participants who received some form of treatment had a lower heart rate than participants in the no treatment control group (p = 0.042) at 20 min post-exercise. Further, a significant treatment by instruction interaction effect for heart rate was also found at 50 min (p = 0.042) and 60 min (p = 0.013) post-exercise, indicating that the differences between real and placebo acupuncture were affected by expectancy manipulation. No other significant effects were noted. However, it was interesting to note that participants who believed they were given real acupuncture reported quicker perceived recovery independent of actual treatment (p = 0.006) suggesting that instruction about treatment influenced perceived recovery. Conclusion: In summary, due to limited evidence, the current study does not support the acute use of acupuncture for exercise recovery. However, importantly, the current study demonstrates that a balanced-placebo design is viable for testing acupuncture and expectancy effects, and this methodology could therefore be implemented in future studies. Trial registration:ACTRN12612001015831(Date registered: 20/09/2012).




Urroz, P., Colagiuri, B., Smith, C. A., Yeung, A., & Cheema, B. S. (2016). Effect of acupuncture and instruction on physiological recovery from maximal exercise: A balanced-placebo controlled trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-016-1213-y

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