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Introduction: Acupuncture is a complex holistic intervention in which patient–practitioner relationships and healing changes occur in interactive, iterative ways. Qualitative research is one way to capture such complexity. This study sought to understand better the experiences of adolescents involved in acupuncture treatment. Materials and methods: We included a qualitative substudy as part of a pilot randomized sham-controlled study of the use of Japanese acupuncture to treat chronic pelvic pain in adolescent girls. Seven (7) interviews were attained. Themes were double-coded and analyzed using qualitative analysis software. Results: Regardless of treatment arm, all subjects reported positive study-related changes, often attributed to positive qualities of the patient–practitioner relationship. Participants in both the sham and verum acupuncture treatment arms reported in the narratives that they were unsure of their study assignment. In contrast, the study's close-ended success of blinding question suggests that some participants were sure of their treatment allocation. Conclusions: As we continue to study acupuncture using sham controls, we need a better understanding of the possible affects of sham treatments on both treatment outcomes and success of blinding. Qualitative research is one-way to explore subtle emergent changes in participants' experiences.
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