Acupuncture has gained widespread popularity in recent years as a treatment for pain, stress, and a variety of other ailments. The rise of integrative medicine and “alternative” treatments is increasing awareness about acupuncture. But does it actually work? Does it have any benefits beyond placebo? Can it be used to treat specific conditions?
Acupuncture is a technique originated from eastern medicine that involves the insertion of needles into the skin at particular points along the body known as “meridians”. It’s believed that these points connect directly to different organs and systems of the body. When stuck with needles, unbalanced energy in these organs or systems will be restored back to balance.
Acupoints are locations on the skin where there are more nerve endings than normal, which makes them particularly sensitive to stimulation. These points are said to act as access points for energy flowing through the body known as qi (pronounced “chi”). In addition, acupoints help correct imbalances in yin and yang energy.
What’s the Evidence that Acupuncture Works?
A review of the best studies on acupuncture published in 2004 suggests that it is effective for reducing pain, including lower back pain, knee osteoarthritis, and osteoarthritis of the hands. It also appears to reduce the number of headaches, including migraine headaches.
Acupuncture is effective for treating lower back pain, knee osteoarthritis, osteoarthritis of the hands, and migraine headaches. Acupuncture may also be helpful for treating nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, some types of headaches, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. It is not recommended for people with health conditions such as infections, bleeding disorders, or certain types of heart diseases.
Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Most people report feeling little to no pain when they receive acupuncture. Rather, they experience a sensation that could be described as a light pricking or a tingling sensation in the area of the needles. Acupuncture needles are very thin (about the thickness of a human hair) and are designed to be minimally invasive.
If you are receiving acupuncture on the part of your body where a blood vessel runs, you might feel a small amount of pain as the needle goes in and out. There’s a small risk of infection from acupuncture, but it’s very low if the practitioner follows proper protocols. The chance of infection increases if you have an infection or open wound in the area that’s receiving acupuncture.
How Effective is Acupuncture for Pain?
A 2016 review found that acupuncture is effective for treating lower back pain, knee osteoarthritis, osteoarthritis of the hands, and migraine headaches. Acupuncture has been shown to be more effective than a placebo for treating lower back pain and knee osteoarthritis. For knee osteoarthritis, acupuncture was as effective as some traditional therapies, such as exercise programs or taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil) or aspirin. It is unclear if acupuncture is more effective than other forms of acupuncture or other types of treatment.
How Effective is Acupuncture for Depression?
A 2017 systematic review found that acupuncture is effective for treating moderate or severe depression, but not mild depression. It was also more effective than a placebo. Another review of studies found that acupuncture may be effective for treating anxiety and depression, but that it is not as effective as psychotherapy or antidepressant drugs.
How Effective is Acupuncture for Anxiety?
A 2019 review of studies suggests that acupuncture can help treat anxiety, but that there’s a need to do more high-quality studies. Another review of studies found that acupuncture is effective for treating anxiety, although the effects may be smaller than a placebo.
How Effective is Acupuncture for Arthritis?
A 2017 review of studies found that acupuncture is as effective as exercise and medication for treating knee osteoarthritis, but not other types of arthritis. Acupuncture may be effective for treating osteoarthritis of the hands, but there’s not enough evidence to be sure.
How Effective is Acro-acupuncture for Chronic Pain?
A 2019 review of studies found that acro-acupuncture may help reduce chronic pain, such as lower back pain or knee osteoarthritis. It may also be effective for treating migraine headaches, but more evidence is needed.
There’s good evidence that acupuncture is effective for treating pain, including lower back pain, knee osteoarthritis, and migraine headaches. There’s also some evidence that it can help with depression and anxiety. Overall, acupuncture may be helpful for treating pain and other conditions, but more high-quality studies are needed to be sure.