Does acupuncture work?

Many people feel better for having a course of acupuncture and report a long term improvement in their symptoms. This is not the same as providing evidence that acupuncture is effective. Research in acupuncture has been made complicated by many assumptions about what it is and how to test whether it works. A good example is to look at the problem of chronic pain, suffered by many people with many varying conditions such as backpain or headaches and migraine.

Pain is notoriously difficult to measure acurately in health care studies as many other factors influence how someone scores or measures their pain. Nearly all acupuncture research has been based on the idea that ‘placebo acupuncture’ has no direct health-giving benefits other than those people believe they might feel. The idea is to seperate out the expectations and hope that acupuncture might help from the real benefit of acupuncture needles. This kind of flawed research has led to much media talk about how acupuncture does not work or is no better than placebo. This is not true. Even ‘placebo acupuncture’ seems to be very beneficial compared to say a placebo pill – imagine you have 3 groups, one has real acupuncture, the other has placebo acupuncture and the third has a pill – both the acupuncture groups perform much better than the pill group. Now scientists are uncovering why (Rewiring the primary somatosensory cortex in carpal tunnel syndrome with acupuncture, Brain, Volume 140, Issue 4, 1 April 2017, Pages 914–927,

New research from two different sources have discovered that the brain responds very differently to placebo acupuncture than to real acupuncture, with real acupuncture giving more long lasting and different benefits. Placebo acupuncture releases endorphins and poeple feel temporarily better. People who suffer with chronic pain have fewer opiod receptors making them more sensitive to pain. The new research shows that real acupuncture changes and re-sets our pain receptors back to normal. These changes from acupuncture treatment show people have a chance of getting better over longer term if they have a chronic pain condition. (More can be read at:Acupuncture “Rewires” the Brain … with Lasting Effects. Harris RE.Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine. 2017 Jun;23(6):405-406. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.29027.reh).