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Does Acupuncture Really Work?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Trying to answer whether acupuncture actually works is very challenging. First, the practice is used in a broad variety of applications, and dedicated practitioners may claim that the rebalance of qi, the body’s energy field, will fix almost anything. This is clearly not true, and failure to see results for many different types of medical conditions has been proven.

Still, a blanket "no" to the question of whether acupuncture actually works is not easy to give either. Some scientific tests have shown some limited effectiveness in treating a few conditions. Further, there are the many people who anecdotally claim this treatment helped them with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, generalized anxiety disorder, and the list goes on.

The US National Institute of Health concluded in 1998 that this treatment may have some benefits and its use might be expanded to traditional medicine in some applications. However, the report also concluded more studies were required.

In 1999, the British Medical Journal examined close to 50 trials of acupuncture given to enhance healing after stroke. The trials showed effectiveness ranging from mild to very effective. Cecil Adams, writer of The Straight Dope concludes Chinese researchers only published positive results. That’s a fairly wide leap to take when no evidence exists that results had been tampered with.

However, Adams does point out that the American Journal of Acupuncture shows that research fails to prove its effectiveness. The conclusion of the Journal is that clinical trials may not be an adequate test of a practice with a very different type of methodology and philosophy.

In other words, Eastern medicine may require different clinical trials than Western medicine. This conclusion sounds a bit strange, and weakens the argument that acupuncture actually works. If it does, it should be clinically verifiable.

Where people have not benefited from Western medicine, they often look to alternative solutions like acupuncture. It cannot be denied that some people benefit from this treatment. It is, however, hard to say how much benefit one will achieve, if any. Sometimes belief that something will work, works as well as the treatment, which is called the placebo effect. When people have lost faith in traditional medicine, they may find their condition improves when nontraditional medicine is tried.

Simply being told that acupuncture will help, when Western doctors offer no solutions is often enough for the mind to mentally improve someone’s condition, especially when pain-related. This is because perception is definitely linked to the amount of pain one feels. In fact, many clinics now offer a cognitive behavioral approach to pain management, which has clinically been proven more effective than acupuncture.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon942112 — On Mar 25, 2014

I have had three treatments so far for the Osteoarthritis in my neck and leg, along with sciatica in my leg and back and disk problems in my back. With each treatment I have greatly improved. I'm looking forward to my fourth treatment. It really works. I like traditional Chinese medicine and herbs.

By anon133947 — On Dec 13, 2010

The author of this article doesn't appear to understand how meta analysis works. The distribution should be a bell curve - that it is not constitutes very good evidence of sampling bias.

By anon128896 — On Nov 21, 2010

I haven't tried acupuncture, but just wanted to ask a question to skeptics and/or scientists who view chi and qi as superstitious beliefs: Does the human body (or all matter for that point) not produce/radiate energy? Answer: Yes. Do humans have the physical ability/sense to perceive these energies? Answer: Some claim to be able to, but for the most part, no.

So my point is that everything is composed of energy, and we, as humans, can only perceive a very tiny fraction of all radiant energy without the use of outside, technological devices.

I don't find it so far-fetched that manipulation of bodily energies through more holistic means is actually "un-scientific". In fact I propose that much of what is considered superstition or myth are actually interpretations of the infinite amount/spectrums of energies we are surrounded by, composed of, and bathed in every day.

Science and "myth" are not so far apart in my opinion, with the former being man's tool to understand and shed away the mythos of the unexplained. Science (most notably medical) has a very long way to go in bridging the gap between the perceived physical world and the infinite, metaphysical existence of universal energies.

By anon122868 — On Oct 29, 2010

Of course it works. read the research instead of being a typical allopath sympathizer.

By anon34542 — On Jun 24, 2009

Honestly, I just had my first treatment of acupuncture yesterday for chronic pain. I woke up this morning feeling better than I have in such a *long* time - she even made problems I didn't address feel better. I am pretty open minded and love the fact that acupuncture is not covering up your pain with a pill but it seems to help release energy or the magic in ya - Oh my Gosh! I love it - so far. You don't even really feel the needles much and it's *so* relaxing - so worth it! I feel *so* good!!

By anon7211 — On Jan 21, 2008

I was suffering from severe chronic back pain (middle area of my back) for 2 years, even after multiple tests doctors could not fix my back problem. I was told about acupuncture and tried it, WOW did it ever work, I have been pain free for 5 years. now and going strong. IT REALLY DOES WORK.

Yours truly: believer

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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