Does acupuncture really work? what Science says and what we say.

In order to write this article, I started with AI and a standard answer to the question, does acupuncture work, this is what it said:

Scientific Perspective

Scientific research has shown that acupuncture can be effective for certain health issues, particularly pain management. Studies have indicated that it may help relieve chronic pain conditions such as back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis. Acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system, leading to the release of molecules that can alter pain perception and promote a sense of wellbeing.

Personal and Clinical Observations

Many practitioners and patients advocate for acupuncture based on personal and observed benefits, noting improvements not only in physical conditions but also in mental health aspects like stress and anxiety. However, experiences and results can vary widely, influenced by factors such as the practitioner’s skill, the patient’s condition, and the treatment frequency.


While scientific studies support the effectiveness of acupuncture for certain conditions, particularly in pain management, more high-quality research is needed to fully understand its range of capabilities and mechanisms.

Now, having been around acupuncture for nearly 35 years, I know it works. But the question is, do we really need more high-quality research to fully understand its range of capabilities and mechanisms?

I dont think so, and Im going to try and explain why not.

A person who is ill or in pain is generally less concerned with HOW something works and more with IF it works or not. I have seen many instances of acupuncture working very well and surpassing everyones expectations, including those of the practitioner. But I also know that high expectations of acupuncture can lead to disappointment. Even in areas where acupuncture has been “scientifically” proven to work using “evidence based” techniques and “peer reviewed” studies there are never any guarantees.

People who support a scientific, evidence based approach to medicine and wish to criticise acupuncture, often dismiss it as “placebo” using it like a swear word. Here is AI again:

The placebo effect refers to the phenomenon where individuals experience real changes in their health after receiving a treatment that has no therapeutic effect. This effect is not due to the treatment itself, but rather the person’s belief in or expectations about the treatment. Placebos, which are inert substances or procedures, can trigger measurable improvements in symptoms, demonstrating the powerful interplay between the mind and body. Researchers believe that the placebo effect may involve complex brain-body interactions, with psychological mechanisms like expectation and conditioning playing significant roles. This effect is a critical consideration in clinical trials to help distinguish the efficacy of new treatments from the improvements that occur simply because participants believe they are receiving an active treatment.

In other words placebo is seen as getting in the way of distinguishing the efficacy of new treatments.

However, Im going to say quite openly and honestly that I believe the phenomenon we are calling the placebo is an important part of the efficacy of acupuncture, Just as it is an important part of the efficacy of all medicine! Are we seriously expected to believe that all the healing and improvements people experience with conventional medicine are because it’s “scientifically proven”?

One of the most common comments I hear about the NHS goes something like this:

“Well, it was terrible, I was kept waiting for 11 hours, because the staff were rushed off their feet. They were all so nice, the doctor was so knowledgeable and so professional….. once he was able to see me. I was so confident he would help and that he knew what he was doing. He said I would feel better after the medication had taken effect and I did, I feel so much better now, I can’t say enough about how great the nurses were. Now Im home Im not really taking the medication, it makes me feel drowsy and nauseas”

Here is AI again:

In the UK, it is estimated that between one-third to one-half of all prescribed medications are not taken as recommended. This includes both intentional and unintentional non-adherence to medication regimens, which can result in significant health and economic costs (NICE). Another study notes that up to 50% of medicines in England are not taken as intended (BMJ Evidence-Based Pharmacy and Practice). These figures highlight a significant issue in medication adherence, impacting patient outcomes and healthcare efficiency.

Not to mention the waste of billions of pounds and the role of the pharmaceutical industry.

Placebo is a blessing and a clue as to how people heal, it is NOT a criticism of alternative medicine. It’s part of the way to explain how ALL medical help works.

Having said all that I do not believe that acupuncture (or other types of medicine) is only placebo, I think it works on other levels as well. Since it works on animals, children and cynics, I think that’s obvious.

The base case for acupuncture is that it works on the level of “energy” and that is not always an easy thing to define, since its arguable that everything is energy. Does this mean that acupuncture works on “everything” ?

Well… yes, potentially. That’s the definition of holistic medicine, isn’t it?

Im not claiming that I can do that all the time or that students from the college will, but some of the time yes. Just as the doctor in the example I gave did so much more than an operation or the prescribing of drugs.

We dont ever know “everything” but what we do know about is a little bit of it and since everything is part of “everything” we cant actually not influence “everything” even if we try.

In my example the patient went home feeling better, consequently others in the family felt better, so someone went to work feeling better and that changed their work environment, and so it goes on. The connections are always there, no one exists in separation, everyone and everything is part of the whole.

Acupuncture involves an understanding of theory about the way that Qi (energy) moves through the body and observing its state of balance. Western Medicine involves an understanding of it’s own theories and experiences as well. All these theories are enhanced and developed through practice and experience.

But they still treat “everything” you just have to see which is best for you at any given time and depending upon your needs and circumstances. Often its the case that the answer is both or even many, because there are lots of different kinds of acupuncture and lots of different kinds of “evidence based medicine” (depending upon what people call “evidence”)

I suppose one fundamental difference is that practitioners of acupuncture are trained to know and accept this. Most practitioners of Western Medicine are trained to deny it.

Does acupuncture work? You’d better believe it, acupuncture treats EVERYTHING.

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