Though probably less known of than massage and yoga, acupuncture is nonetheless also an ancient art, originating mostly from the East, which is said to have many positive effects.

Unfortunately, unlike massage and yoga, acupuncture is more likely to turn people away because it involves sliding sharpened needles through the skin. What if something goes wrong, and a nerve is irreparably damaged? What if the needle punctures an organ? Are those needles sterile?

As such, becoming an acupuncturist merits very high standards. Regardless, make sure that the person whom you may see for acupuncture has a license, and a certificate from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Scrutinize their experience and training. If everything checks out, then, in the words of the United States Government, “acupuncture is generally considered safe”. They go on to clearly state that “Relatively few complications from using acupuncture have been reported.”

In 1971, an ancient Chinese art, acupuncture, caught the nation’s eye. Though 2,000 years old, the practice, one of stimulating various crucial areas on the body to lead to a more healthy flow of energy (qi), has been recognized by the US government as medicinal for over 20 years.

Traditional Chinese philosophy views the mind and body as very much intertwined with one another. It holds that physical changes affect emotion, and that emotions change the self physically. The non-scientific schema is that there are five elements, and that each is tied to an emotion

  • metal as grief
  • earth as worry
  • water as fear
  • wood as anger
  • fire as happiness

And yet acupuncture itself can be profoundly healing, as we read on.

Accredited acupuncturist Ka-Kit Hui maintains that there’s “nothing magical” about it – acupuncture merely engages the body to heal itself. That said, Hui also states that it should be one part of a many-pronged approach to dealing with a problem. It’s known to help pain of the…

  • back
  • neck
  • shoulder
  • head (headache)
  • wear and tear arthritis
  • dymenorrhea (severe pain during the menstrual cycle)

Barring cancer, end-of-life, or palliative care, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that doctors try alternative options to treat pain, such as acupuncture. Given America’s opioid addiction epidemic, such a move toward acupuncture and other, non-drug ways to live with pain, improves two issues at once.

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However, regarding cancer, it can be very helpful as part of the treatment protocol, as many report that it can reduce their nausea. In terms of emotional difficulties, acupuncture has reportedly reduced symptoms of…

Just as some protective measures, before considering acupuncture…

  • Ask your doctor if it might reduce symptoms
  • Talk to your doctor specifically if…
    • you’re on medication(s)
    • you’re pregnant
    • you have a chronic skin condition
    • you have a pacemaker
    • you have a high infection risk
  • Make sure the acupuncturist has credentials and/or is licensed to practice
  • Understand that diagnosed health problems must come from doctors

I spent no more than 15 minutes searching the Google Scholar database for studies conducted since 2010. The search words were “acupuncture systematic review meta-analysis”. Here are the conclusions of the positive studies I found:

And the non-positive:

Notice that the non-positive studies didn’t rule out benefit. They simply said that whether acupuncture is effective or not in such and such a way could not be determined. So those two studies are pretty effectively neutral. Seven positive studies were found, several on pain, which is more significant given the current opioid abuse epidemic.

According to the United States Government, acupuncture may be useful in allaying several types of pain. Here are the studies they cite to back of their claims

  • Neck pain
    • Real acupuncture, in a (small) meta-analysis, significantly improved neck pain compared to simulated acupuncture (2009)
    • One experiment of 14,000 participants with neck pain, discovered that acupuncture as an adjunct to conventional care led to significantly less pain than usual care itself
  • Pain of the lower back
    • A meta-analysis/systematic review discovered that back and neck pain was decreased significantly by acupuncture, in comparison to simulated acupuncture or no intervention (2012)
    • A systematic review concluded that acupuncture lowered back pain in only the short-term (2010)
    • Another systematic review discovered that, added to conventional care, acupuncture fights lower back pain significantly more than those undergoing only conventional care, but that simulated acupuncture works just as well as actual acupuncture, in this respect (2008)
    • The American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians first started recommending, in 2007, that doctors should consider acupuncture if their patients don’t show a significant response to conventional care
  • Migraine and tension headaches
    • In terms of both how often, and how painful, one experienced migraine and tension headaches, a meta-anlaysis deemed acupuncture significantly more effective at cobatting, than simulation or lack of acupuncture (2012)
    • In 2009, a systematic review concurred that acupuncture was significantly helpful in improving tension headaches, compared to painkillers and simulated acupuncture
    • Another systematic review, also in 2009, found that adding acupuncture to conventional care for migraines, reduced how often these type of headaches were experienced, but it’s not clear how acupuncture simulation was found to affect frequency of migraines.
    • Finally, researchers conducted a systematic review of acupuncture on the degree of pain and incidence of tension headaches over a month, finding that actual acupuncture holds a small advantage over simulated acupuncture.
  • Knee pain
    • Acupuncture relieved pain compared to no treatment, but not compared to simulated acupuncture, as a 12-week study found (2014)
    • And yet a large meta-analysis dicovered it more effective that no treatment and simulated acupuncture the same (2012)
    • Thirdly, a systematic review found the same result as directly above, that it beat out no treatment and simulation, but that the difference between simulation and actual acupuncture was “very small” (2010)

As for further benefits the United States Government comments on…

  • Side effects of cancer treatments
    • An 11-study systematic review, including more than 1,200 people, found that it might help those with cancer weather the side effects of chemotherapy and/or radiation
  • Depression
    • Here The Government states that “there is not enough evidence”
  • Smoking
    • They claim that though it’s been said to help people kick the smoking tobacco habit for about half a century, “research has not shown that it helps people quit”.

Here we have the scientific mechanism by which the practice purports to work.


Sources: Darcie Black,,,,