Does Acupuncture Work?

By Michael Quesada September 19, 2018

Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture: Does it Work?

For more than 2,500 years, acupuncture remains to be one of the medical alternatives to pain management and even in the promotion of overall well-being. What started as an ancient healing practice in China has grabbed the attention of Western medicine - one which is highly dependent on synthetic chemicals to heal human illnesses.  Some affirmed its efficacy while others continue to question the legitimacy of acupuncture to heal the body.

Over the decades, medical doctors and even the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013 said acupuncture might help ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low-back pain, neck pain, headaches, and osteoarthritis/knee pain.  Recently, acupuncture has been utilised to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy such as vomiting and nausea for cancer patients.  Others also see it as a form of preventive medicine. 

With these assumptions, it is no wonder why millions of people undergo acupuncture therapy every year. 

But does it really work? Or is it just another junk science?

Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture in Ancient China

Health, in traditional Chinese medicine, meant a harmonious balance of life’s two opposing forces "yin" and "yang" or known as "qi” (pronounced chi).  Once these forces exist in the human body disproportionately, illnesses occur. A balanced qi, meanwhile, meant a healthy body and an ideal form.

Acupuncture came in as a result of this belief.  In a sense, the qi is said to flow through the meridians, or pathways, in the human body which can be accessed through 350 acupuncture points.  With acupuncture, thin specialized needles are inserted through the skin to stimulate specific points on the body and to bring the energy flow back into proper balance.

With numerous scientific research on acupuncture, contemporary experts link acupuncture to neuroscience.  The acupuncture points in the body are believed to be the same areas where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue are abundant, and when triggered, results to increased blood flow and the release of the body’s natural painkillers.

Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture in science

One of the largest studies in acupuncture published in October 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine discovered that acupuncture is “effective” in treating chronic pain.  This particular study involved a meta-analysis of 29 studies involving nearly 18,000 patient, with doctors agreeing that acupuncture is a “reasonable referral option.” 

In addition, there are numerous hypotheses worldwide supporting the claim the acupuncture does wonder in pain management and even treating certain conditions.

Dr. Ting Bao, for instance, is an oncologist in New York who prescribes acupuncture as a complementary treatment for breast cancer patients.  Her experience tells her that acupuncture reduces the side effects of chemotherapy such as vomiting and nausea.  She recounted:

"One major hypothesis is that acupuncture works through neurohormonal pathways.  Basically, you put the needle through specific points in the body and stimulate the nerve.  The nerve actually sends signals to the brain, and the brain releases neural hormones such as beta-Endorphins.  By doing that, the patient may feel euphoric, or happy, and this increases the pain threshold, and they feel less pain.”

Another major hypothesis on this oriental medicine states that acupuncture stimulates the biochemical responses in the human body via the nerves.  According to acupuncturist and traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Kylie Study, acupuncture triggers the pituitary gland to release hormones that relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture is also believed to reduce pro-inflammatory markers, or proteins, in the body.  One hypothesis suggests that acupuncture can decrease these pro-inflammatory markers — including TNF and IL-1β — which likewise decreases inflammation and reduces pain, according to Bao.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave a U.S seal of approval since 1996 when it first classified acupuncture needles as medical devices.

Benefits of acupuncture

Over the years, pain medications like opioids that include codeine, morphine, OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin have shown to have caused significant threat to patients, even resulting to “epidemic” deaths due to overdoses.  As a result, the medical community worldwide is looking at alternative pain treatments that are generally safe to consume. 

Acupuncture is one recommended approach to pain management.  More importantly, studies have shown that it works effectively with medications and other treatments too.

But one of the greatest accomplishments in the field of acupuncture is the World Health Organization’s acknowledgement of the therapy as helping cure over 20 diseases and disorders.  In its official list, WHO said acupuncture therapy had been tested in controlled clinical trials in these illnesses:

Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy

Induction of labour

Periarthritis of shoulder

Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)

Knee pain

Postoperative pain

Biliary colic


Renal colic

Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)

Low back pain

Rheumatoid arthritis 

Dysentery, acute bacillary

Malposition of fetus, correction of


Dysmenorrhoea, primary

Morning sickness


Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, andgastrospasm)

Nausea and vomiting


Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)

Neck pain

Tennis elbow


Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)

Hypertension/ Hypotension

Until now, many researchers around the world examine acupuncture’s efficacy, especially in new areas where it is gaining momentum.  These include acupuncture as treating depression, sleep disturbances, and drug addiction.

Surprisingly, acupuncture is also believed to treat fertility conditions.  One study hypothesized that acupuncture might increase the effectiveness of fertility drugs by naturally increasing the hormone levels that travel to the ovaries.

For instance, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) who underwent sessions of acupuncture saw a 33 per cent increased chance of successful pregnancy.  Acupuncture is believed to balance out hormones by lowering testosterone levels and regulating ovulation. 

Does Acupuncture Work?

If you’re considering acupuncture, do this.

When trying out acupuncture for the first time, make sure to consult your doctor first about it. 

Despite its healthy reputation, not everyone may be a good candidate for acupuncture, especially if he or she has a sensitive medical condition.  Overall, common side effects of the procedure include soreness, minor bleeding and bruising in areas where the needles were inserted.  This is generally painless and harmless.

Upon the approval of a medical practitioner, find a licensed acupuncturist near you. Make sure that this acupuncturist passed the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) exam or complete the NCCAOM program in the foundations of Oriental medicine, acupuncture, and biomedicine 

Licensed acupuncturist should have “Lac” after their name.

What are the risks?

Generally, acupuncture is harmless if administered by a competent and licensed acupuncturist.  Common triggers for acupuncture complications are usually the use of non-sterile needles and improper delivery of treatments.  Some serious adverse effects recorded with acupuncture include infections, punctured organs, collapsed lungs, and injury to the central nervous system.

People with bleeding disorders or taking blood thinning medications are advised to stay away from acupuncture or exercise caution since the risk of bleeding is most likely. 

One acupuncture session is generally priced at around $60 to over $100, depending on your location.


Acupuncture’s implications for pain management and overall health kept it alive for more than 2,500 years.  Growing bodies of research point out that it can help in various health conditions, especially those that were identified by the World Health Organization.  Moreover, the medical field’s search for a safer alternative to opioids which had caused epidemic deaths in some parts of the world made acupuncture a more attractive choice for patients who are in pain.  

This is not to say however that acupuncture is a miracle cure-all for various health conditions.  While some studies have suggested that acupuncture can help manage certain conditions, it is yet to be fully explored as to how far it can aid other health issues like fertility, drug addiction, and depression among many others. 

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Does Acupuncture Work?

Michael Quesada

Founder of this website; currently living vicariously through himself.

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