Does Acupuncture Work?

Whether or not acupuncture works, depends on who you ask and what you’re trying to get out of it. Some people want to believe in something so badly, that no matter what the science says, it will work for them. Gotta love that placebo effect. But, that aside, in general does acupuncture work? Let’s try and find out.

What is acupuncture? Well, it is a form of traditional Chinese medical treatment, which involves insertion of very fine needles into specific sites on the body. The purpose, is to restore energy balance, which results in several benefits, that includes, but is not limited to stress and pain relief. In general restoring the energy balance results in alleviation of ailments.

Benefits of Acupuncture

Pain relief This is the big one, that most westerners get acupuncture for. In a 2012 meta study of randomized control trials (RCT), four chronic pain conditions were examined: back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain. The results of the study point to acupuncture being superior to both sham and no-acupuncture control for each pain condition [1]. Another study, done even earlier (2007), in which 1162 patients were studied, acupuncture treatments were effective in alleviating pain. So, right now the research is inconclusive, just as with the cupping treatment. Some studies show benefits, whilst others either show no significant benefit or the sham protocol being just as effective.

Nausea and vomiting A 2004 study on the post operative nausea and vomiting (PONV) examined 40 trials which included 4858 participants, showed that acupuncture significantly reduced nausea and vomiting compared to the sham treatment and even more effective than drug treatment [3]. Complaints were that the studies were not rigorous enough and experimental protocols were not very strong.

Depression and Anxiety Like the other studies done, results of acupuncture on depression and anxiety have been mixed. In a 2000 study of 70 patients, three groups of verum (true) acupuncture, placebo acupuncture and a control group were created to study the ability of acupuncture to reduce depression. It was found that patients who experienced acupuncture improved slightly more than patients treated with the anti-depressant mianserin alone. Again, there was no difference between the placebo and the real thing [4]. In another study (2004), pregnant women with major depression were assigned to one of three treatments, an active acupuncture, an active control acupuncture, and massage. The response rates were highest for the active acupuncture compared to the other treatments.

Other effects In Parkinson’s Disease treatment, the results are inconclusive at best [5]. Similar results with the effects of acupuncture on obesity. Like the cupping article, this one is also short due to the lack of conclusive evidence that supports the purported benefits of acupuncture. The major issues that acupuncture is used for are covered, and even then, there isn’t too much to go on.

Summary As before, I’m not saying conclusively that acupuncture does not work, or that the effect is mainly due to the belief of the individuals involved. Some studies show benefits, some don’t. Some people see a benefit and others don’t. If you want to give it a try, go ahead, there isn’t much risk from the treatment itself. The only problems arise due to unsanitary conditions or reuse of dirty needles. Other than that, if you find a highly recommended acupuncturist who keeps his instruments sterile, there shouldn’t be a problem. Let me know how it works out for you.


Needles on back photo used with CC-By-2.0 license

16 thoughts on “Does Acupuncture Work?

  1. Thanks for your article on acupuncture. Years ago back in my mid-30s (I’m a young 51), I had experience with Bell’s Palsy and woke up with the left side of my face totally paralyzed with a droopy lip. It also happened to be Thanksgiving Day – one of my fave foodie holidays of the year. SO much for enjoying it..I had turkey rice soup and iced tea vs. the usual trimmings that my eyes lusted after and my tummy was satiated on. Acupuncture has different results for people. For me, 1 session and a prescription of adding calcium as a supplement plus converting to 80% plant-based meals (cutting out processed foods, added sugar and fried foods)…made a difference. After ONE WEEK…all symptoms disappeared. I still follow the guidelines that acupuncturist gave me re: my diet…still take calcium. Its amazing what those tiny little needles do for unblocking energy channels.

    1. So which was it that helped? the prescription, plant based meals or the acupuncture? Have you tried the other 2 without the acupuncture?

  2. From what I’ve read, it seems like acupuncture is pretty ineffective. And whatever benefit people do receive from it probably could be explained by placebo. If that is sufficient for people, then all the power to them. And
    I’ve noticed that a lot these specialists don’t wear gloves. Seems really unsanitary.

  3. I feel I’m not sure about whether acupuncture works or not. Maybe it does for some people. I tried it for numbness in my feet and it did not work. I’m wondering if I should have given it more time. I didn’t have pain, just numbness. How long do you have to go for it to work? Month? 6 Months? I’m curious

    1. Length of time depends on the individual.You could try it a few times. I would go to a doctor first and see what they have to offer…then you can look further into acupuncture.

  4. I enjoyed reading your article. I have never really known what acupuncture is. All I knew was that it involves inserting needles in the body. I would definitely like to try it one, not for any medical reasons, but simple to feel whether its painful or not. Do you have any idea how much it cost?

  5. Hi Dave,

    Your article is very interesting. I’ve known about acupuncture for a long time but never attempted to try it. I’ve never given it any thought or knew whether it really worked or not.

    After reading your article it sounds like acupuncture worked on many case studies but I personally believe that if you believe, it will work. If you don’t, then it may not. It just all depends on the individual.

    I appreciate the one point you mentioned and that is to be aware of unsanitary reuse of dirty needles which I would never have thought of. Thank you for making us aware of that.

    Again, thank you for sharing this information.

  6. Hey Dave. I like your post on acupuncture.I am interested in everything Chinese so this post of yours caught my eye. Anyway, I have a problem with scoliosis which someitmes gives me back pain. Do you think that acupunctre could help me with that? If yes, can I do it alone or do I need help from the professional Thank you for your reply.

    1. I would suggest going to a professional. You don’t want to do this alone. As for your back pain, you can try the treatment and see how it feels. It seems to vary from person to person. Make sure they sterilize their needles.

  7. Hello here. Yes, acupuncture works for everybody, just we as Westerners can not grasp some things such as meridians or the body as whole system.
    We want results right away. If acupuncture does not help after one or two sessions we decide that is not worth time or money.
    Gratification is a norm of life. We got that we deserve. Busy life and wrong lifestyle take toll on us. We become as zombies turning the same wheel over and over.
    Acupuncture and meditation are tools who can immensely help us to restore balance in our bodies and minds.
    All the best, Nemira.

    1. I understand your thoughts. But at the end of the day, you cannot say something works or does not work without giving evidence or a valid argument. Just because you want something to be so, does not make it so. You really can’t say acupuncture works for everybody. Just as I cannot say conclusively that it does not. I present what was found so far, and let people make the decision for themselves.

      1. You are right about valid arguments. Unfortunately, most of us make decisions based on information what they heard from friends or heard on TV. It is the same as blind leads blind. The information based on scientific evidence and findings from doctors or scientists is real. However, who reads books or medical magazines? My point is that we need to search for information and expand our view to the world. All the best.

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