Is acupuncture effective?


Fact Box

  • Dating back to before 2,500 BCE, acupuncture is an 'ancient Chinese medical technique for relieving pain, curing disease, and improving general health.' 
  • The Mayo Clinic explains that according to Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture treatment involves 'the insertion of very thin needles through your skin at strategic points on your body' to balance life force energy or qi. Modern Western medicine says that the technique stimulates nerves and connective tissues to boost 'your body's natural painkillers.' 
  • According to a 2018 PubMed study, there were 37,886 'actively licensed acupuncturists' in the US. 
  • A 2017 Statista survey revealed that 15% of Americans said they had tried acupuncture, while 53% said they had never tried it but might.

Nic (No)

Explorations outside of standard medical treatment usually dip a toe into pseudoscience, and acupuncture is no exception. Acupuncture's efficacy is questionable at best, and people who claim positive outcomes from treatments are usually those who expect them. Conventional medicine is supported by more peer-reviewed scientific evidence, and further, findings from a controlled experiment suggest that 'real' acupuncture only works slightly better than 'sham' acupuncture. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that acupuncture produces the most favorable results in people expecting it to improve their symptoms. The placebo effect is real, and if acupuncture patients seek treatment for vague symptoms like fatigue, depression, or pain, the lack of quantitative evidence of the treatment's effectiveness can allow the placebo effect to take hold. 

Additionally, the efficacy of traditional treatments like medication, scientifically-proven physical therapies, and therapeutic injections are supported by more scientific evidence. Doctors are, after all, scientists, and treatments for serious conditions should be left to those licensed, educated, and qualified to administer them. 

Not surprisingly, a 2017 study found that with migraines--which people sometimes turn to acupuncture to treat--authentic acupuncture treatment provided by licensed and experienced acupuncturists was only slightly more effective than fake acupuncture treatments. Both study groups (the tested and control groups) reported a reduction in migraines, indicating the strong influence of the placebo effect on acupuncture patients in general. 

Acupuncture may make someone feel better, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it works. It's best to leave the true healing to traditional medicine that relies on tried and true evidence to support its efficacy. 

Bre (Yes)

Acupuncture is a powerful therapy that has been around for thousands of years and continues to be practiced far and wide. With roots in traditional Chinese medicine, its myriad benefits are supported by science. In 2003, it was concluded by the World Health Organization that acupuncture is proven to treat a wide range of conditions and symptoms successfully.

A variety of pain types, blood pressure imbalances, gastric and gynecological ailments, arthritic and nerve issues, cancer and chemotherapy-related symptoms, and pregnancy irregularities and discomfort, are just some of the medical diagnoses known to be effectively treated with acupuncture. It even reduces stroke risk. With chronic pain, the effects are pronounced and persistent, defying placebo effect theories. Relief is also well documented in patients suffering headaches, migraines, nausea, stress, anxiety, and depression.

As a reliable source of pain relief, acupuncture has the potential to change the health care landscape by both reducing the need for painkiller medications, as well as offering a non-opioid alternative for those already struggling with addiction, which is often linked to pain management. Acupuncture is increasingly covered by insurance and is a cost-effective, evidence-based solution to this widespread social issue.

It’s important to receive acupuncture from a trained practitioner, as its methods are extremely precision-based. And its efficacy continues to be better understood from a neuroscience perspective--belief in the practice is not needed in order to see results, which are typically observed after just a few sessions. Research shows acupuncture to be anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and curative.

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