Sunday, November 20, 2016


A new study is the first to demonstrate that patients who knowingly take placebos or "fake pills" for lower back pain, still resulted in a 30 percent ease in pain and 29 percent decrease in disability when compared to the control group. This study essentially redefines the effects placebo pills has on health and wellness. A paper published in the journal Pain demonstrated how those given open-label placebo pills had improvements which, superseded those of patients who only received the traditional medications for lower back pain. 

Ted Kaptchuk, director of the Program for Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard medical School states, "These findings completely turn our understanding of the placebo effect on its head. This new research demonstrates that the placebo effect is not necessarily elicited by patients' conscious expectation that they are getting an active medicine, as long thought. Taking a pill in the context of a patient-clinician relationship--even if you know it's a placebo--is a ritual that changes symptoms and probably activates regions of the brain that modulate symptoms." When a patient interacts with their doctors or nurses during treatment, the psychological effect of feeling cared for, of empathy and of trust, can lead to a positive physiological effect, whether the medication is active or not.

While it shouldn't replace medications for tumors or other extreme ailments, the study shows that the placebo effect holds precedent and can to relieve symptoms, such as back pain to a degree without invoking a physiological effect on the body.


    1. Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center. "Knowingly taking placebo pills eases pain, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 October 2016. <>.

    2. Claudia Carvalho, Joaquim Machado Caetano, Lidia Cunha, Paula Rebouta, Ted J. Kaptchuk, Irving Kirsch. open-label placebo treatment in chronic low back pain. PAIN, 2016; 1 DOI: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000700

1 comment:

  1. The power of the mind is one that never ceases to amaze me. Even though people knew that this was a placebo, it still fixed their pain! I do not understand that at all, and it makes you think about how much of pain is really just in our minds. This study is really confusing because I, myself, feel like if I knew a pill would not do anything then I feel that I would still be in pain. The motion and acting of taking medicine, even without it having any real properties, seems like it is an effect similar to Pavlov's dogs experiment. That because of the motion our bodies have a triggered response when we take the medicine, no matter what the medicine actually is, that alleviates pain because of all of the times in our lives that real medicine actually fixed our pain. This is really crazy news to me, even if it doesn't make much sense.