The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


What is a placebo?

The word “placebo” comes from the Latin “to please.” When doctors discuss placebos, they are usually referring to “bogus” treatments that do nothing, like sugar pills.

Placebos are often used in research studies. When a new drug is tested, it is compared to a placebo. For example, research subjects are divided into two groups. Half receive the test drug and others get a sugar pill. The two groups are surveyed and compared. Sometimes, the people getting the sugar pill report benefits. Placebos can “please.”

One doctor’s placebo is another doctor’s treatment. Some treatments thought to be placebos, by medical doctors, may be truly beneficial. Acupuncture and chiropractic are good examples.

If some treatments provided no real benefit and were only placebos, why would research studies show them to be beneficial? Certain patients may be more receptive to suggestion. Simply telling some people that they will get better may help. Some doctors are also particularly good at reassurance and providing a nurturing environment. A nurturing environment can promote healing.

If you have neck or back pain, and if a non-conventional cure works for you, it should not matter if someone else calls it a placebo. Acupuncture or chiropractic, for example, may be right for you. Just exercise common sense and check with your spine specialist before trying anything really unique.



The information in this site briefly describes issues related to medical treatments, and has been licensed by from Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc., who is solely responsible for said content.  This web site is not a substitute for good medical care or for a consultation with a spine specialist. It should not be used to plan your treatment. The well considered advice of a specialist who has personally examined you is always superior to even the best internet pages.

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Last modified: 07/27/08