Medical Acupuncture: The Science Behind Alternative Medicine

Acupuncture is part of one of the oldest known systems of medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and has been used for thousands of years. It utilizes fine needles which are inserted into “meridians” or energy channels in the body. This process helps stimulate energy and facilitate healing naturally.

What is Medical Acupuncture Good For?

Acupuncture can literally be used for hundreds of illnesses. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is used to realign Qi (pronounced “chi”), the body’s life force. Although the method of diagnosis is different in TCM, symptomatology is still important. And, acupuncture can be used to address individual symptoms and conditions.

Medical Acupuncture

Here are just a few examples:

  • Asthma, chronic and acute, along with general respiratory conditions such as bronchitis
  • Depression, mild to moderate
  • Epilepsy, both petit and gran mal seizures
  • Gastrointestinal disorders, including constipation, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Infertility, problems relating to conception, and labor induction
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders
  • Low back, upper back and neck pain
  • Nausea and vomiting, and other cold and flu symptoms
  • Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and general joint pain
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Smoking and drug addictions
  • Stroke and post-stroke recovery

What Does the Science Say?

A search of the US National Library of Medicine’s database yields 17, 043 studies and reviews relating to medical acupuncture. This is just a sample of some of the results of those studies.


Arthritis is a common condition many seek medical treatment for. It affects more than 40 million Americans. It is characterized by pain and stiffness in the joints, especially the large joints of the body. Many are now finding relief from arthritis through acupuncture.

In one Chinese study published in September 2011, 160 patients with gouty arthritis were divided into two groups, and treated with either acupuncture or conventional medication. The acupuncture group showed 52.5 percent improvement, while the medicated group only showed 22.5 percent improvement. Researchers concluded that acupuncture was superior to oral medication for gouty arthritis. It also has the added benefit of not harming the liver as with many prescription medicines for this condition.


Another 2011 study by General Hospital of PLA in Beijing found that acupuncture is also effective in treating depression. Cancer patients with both insomnia and depression were divided into two groups, one treated with acupuncture, the other with Fluoxetine (brand name Prozac).

After the study, the acupuncture group had significantly lower scores for both depression and insomnia when compared to the group which took prescription medication. Scientists determined that acupuncture effectively reduces depression while improving sleep patterns and overall quality of life in cancer patients.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome, more commonly known as chronic muscle pain, can affect a single muscle or group of muscles. Groups of muscles in certain areas of the body, such as the neck and back, may also be affected.

In a study from the Jiangxi College of Chinese Medicine, 62 random patients diagnosed with myofascial pain syndrome were treated with either acupuncture and moxibustion, or a therapeutic method using heated herbs, or acupuncture and infrared heat.

The acupuncture and moxibustion group had significantly lower pain levels than the control group. Researchers concluded that acupuncture combined with moxibustion was a superior therapy for patients with myofascial pain syndrome.


Headaches are one of the most common complaints patients have when seeking medical treatment. Migraines are severe or chronic headaches. They can last for hours or even days at a time.

In a study from the Fangshan District Hospital of Chinese Medicine, researchers evaluated the effects of medical acupuncture on patients with migraine headaches. The patients were treated with either acupuncture or the standard prescription medication, Flunarizine.

Not surprisingly, the acupuncture group showed a greater recovery rate. Although both groups showed lower pain levels, the acupuncture group was significantly lower, and bodily pain and overall physical function were improved. Researchers felt that acupuncture not only addresses the headache, but also helps improve quality of life.


Post-operative pain is typically controlled by narcotics or other harsh medications. However, for centuries acupuncture has been used to control pain levels and help patients recover from injuries.

One interesting study from Brazil showed that acupuncture successfully controlled pain in dogs following a surgical procedure. The dogs were given either a narcotic, electronic acupuncture treatment, or a sham treatment following surgery. The acupuncture-treated dogs were afforded as much relief as the medicated dogs, but significantly more than those treated with placeboes.

Although this was only an animal study, it shows that acupuncture has value and may even have a place in Western medicine when combined with conventional treatments such as surgery.

Like many other complementary therapies, acupuncture is often discounted or just over-looked because it is different. But the fact is many scientific studies support the use of acupuncture. Don’t overlook this amazing healing modality.


1. The Cochrane Library: Acupuncture –

2. PubMed: Comparative observation of the efficacy on acute gouty arthritis between acupuncture combined with infrared irradiation and western medicine –

3. PubMed: Clinical randomized controlled trials of treatment of neck-back myofascial pain syndrome by acupuncture of Ashi-points combined with moxibustion of heat-sensitive points –

4. PubMed: Randomized controlled clinical trials for acupuncture treatment of aura-absence migraine patients –

5. PubMed: Clinical research of acupuncture on malignant tumor patients for improving depression and sleep quality –

6. PubMed: Electroacupuncture versus morphine for the postoperative control pain in dogs –