Evidence for Acupuncture

Having existed for over two thousand years and still going strong is evidence enough to seriously consider acupuncture as a useful medical mode for most people. However, certain individuals (who label themselves as “scientific”, or perhaps “sceptics”) still call for more study and research. This is now available from the NHS itself, on their website which quotes from a respectable body called the Cochrane Collaboration who examines hundreds of research and studies and publishes these findings. Here is a quote from the NHS page.


NHS Logo

Some positive evidence

Systematic reviews carried out by The Cochrane Collaboration have found there is some evidence acupuncture may have a beneficial effect on the following conditions:

  • chronic lower back pain
  • tension-type headaches
  • migraines
  • nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy
  • nausea and vomiting after surgery
  • osteoarthritis
  • neck pain
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

However, because of disagreements over the way acupuncture trials should be carried out and over what their results mean, the existence of some positive evidence does not mean acupuncture definitely works for these conditions.
In many cases, the evidence appears contradictory. For example, some high-quality studies may suggest acupuncture is no better than “sham” acupuncture, whereas some lower-quality studies may suggest acupuncture is better than an established medical treatment.
The issue is sometimes also further complicated by the fact some “sham interventions” include active needling and are therefore not true placebos.
In addition, it can be difficult to make sure the patients involved in acupuncture studies are unaware of the specific treatment they are receiving (known as “blinding”).
This is because it is obvious whether you are receiving a conventional medical treatment such as medication or if you are receiving acupuncture, for example. This is a problem as it means the preconceptions of the person being treated may influence the result.
Some systematic reviews, however, have demonstrated the effects of acupuncture over sham treatment in studies where patients are unaware whether they are having real acupuncture or sham treatment.
For example, one large meta-analysis (a type of systematic review) not carried out by The Cochrane Collaboration included data from more than 17,000 patients. It compared acupuncture to sham acupuncture or no acupuncture without patients being aware of whether they had received real or sham treatment.
This review found acupuncture to be superior to both sham and no treatment for headaches, osteoarthritis, back pain and neck pain.


Of course, the nature of these studies limited them to one or two symptoms per study which means that the successful  anecdotal evidence of other ailments cannot be satisfactorily investigated.  Acupuncturists can probably quote many, many more problems that they have helped. The Advertising Standards Authority will not allow their publishing, so scant details exist on what acupuncture can really address. To enquire about your specific issue contact the acupuncturist for a specific answer – contact page.

The World Health Organisation has also listed their own study on what acupuncturists can help. This is also on this site here.

We have not mentioned the very important benefit of regular acupuncture treatment. This is the long term health improvement that is experienced by patients. In the East before contemporary Western style medicine was practised, acupuncturists were visited for regular (monthly?) treatment. Those on this scheme were given a free treatment if they developed any new health problem. The acupuncturists were that confident of their ability to keep illness at bay. I have also noticed that regular clients enjoyed a noticeable level of improved health. This effect has (as far as I know) not been tested for, as probably no formal research method could be devised to confirm this.
For those who believe that conventional medicine can cure all our problems, even the chief scientist of the top pharmaceutical company would disagree with you. Here’s an article in the BBC. (click below to view)