Related Terms

  • Abdominal cluster needling, acupoint, acupressure, acupuncture point stimulation, acustimulation, auricular acupuncture, auriculotherapy, back shu-points, Baihui, Bingfeng, BL58, BL67, body-acupuncture, brain-resuscitation acupuncture, centro-square needling, chi, chronopuncture, Chung Chi, Ciliao, classical balance method, computer-controlled electroacupuncture, conscious restoring resuscitation method, cranial needling, CV3, CV4, De Qi, Dicang, Diji, ear acupuncture, electro-acupuncture-anesthesia-device (EAAD), electroacupuncture, electroacupuncture according to Voll (EAV), energy medicine, ethnic traditional Chinese medicine, eye acupuncture, eye needling, filiform needle acupuncture, French acupuncture, French energetic acupuncture, Ganshu, GB8, GB14, GB44, Guanyuan, GV20, GV21, H9, Han’s acupoint nerve stimulator (HANS), hand acupuncture, Hegu, hot red needle therapy, HT7, intradermal acupuncture, Japanese acupuncture, Japanese meridian, Jiache, Jiafeng, Jingmen, K1, K7, Kaiyin point No. 1, Korean acupuncture, Korean hand acupuncture, Kuan Yuan, laser acupuncture, laser acupuncture therapy, LI1, LI4, LI11,LI20, long needle retention, low level laser acupuncture, LU9, LU11, manual acupuncture, manual stimulation of needles, Matsumoto, medical acupuncture, meridian, motor therapy, moxibustion, myofascial acupuncture, nei-quan, Neiguan, neural therapy, otopuncture, P6 point, P9, PC6, Pishu, point injection, Qi, Qimen, reflexotherapy, Ren17, Ryodoraku, Sanyinjiao, scalp acupuncture, seed, sham acupuncture, sham laser acupuncture, Shaoze, shen-men, Shenshu, shonishin, Shu-Mu points, SI1, SI4, SJ5, somatic acupuncture, SP1, SP6, sphenopalatine ganglion, ST2, ST36, ST40, ST45, superficial dry needling, Taiyang, TB1, tendon muscle picking, thunder fire miraculous needling, ‘ti qi tiao xue, fu ben pei, yuan’ acupuncture, Tongnao Huoluo acupuncture (TNHLA), tongue acupuncture, traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA), traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), transcutaneous nerve stimulation, trigger point acupuncture, triple needling, Tzu Liao, UB2, UB32, verum acupuncture, Vietnamese acupuncture, warm reinforcing needling, Weiwanxiashu of Gliguidon, Weizhong, Western acupuncture, wrist-ankle acupuncture, Xiajuxu, Yangbai, Yanglingquan, Xinshu, Zhangmen, Zhongji, Zhuya Tongfu (ZYTF), Zusanli points.
  • Not included in this review: Acupressure, acustimulation, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), shiatsu.

Background

  • The practice of acupuncture originated in China 5,000 years ago. Today it is widely used throughout the world and is one of the main pillars of Chinese medicine.
  • There are many different varieties of the practice of acupuncture, both in the Orient and in the West. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) usually combines acupuncture with Chinese herbs. Classical acupuncture (also known as five element acupuncture) uses a different needling technique and relies on acupuncture independent of the use of herbs. Japanese acupuncture uses smaller needles than the other varieties. Medical acupuncture refers to acupuncture practiced by a conventional medical doctor. Auricular acupuncture treats the entire body through acupuncture points in the ears only. Electroacupuncture uses electrical currents attached to acupuncture needles.
  • Aside from needles, other methods of stimulation are also considered forms of “acupuncture.” These include the use of heat from the burning of herbs placed on specific points (“moxibustion”) and the placement of herbal pastes on specific points.
  • Research on the effectiveness of acupuncture has special challenges. These include the diversity of approaches, the practice of individualizing treatment for each patient, differing skill levels between practitioners, and difficulty separating out the effects of acupuncture from placebo effects (i.e., how the patient’s beliefs and expectations affect his/her perception of symptoms).
  • Based on acupuncture’s long history of use as well as the limited research available, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have identified many conditions for which it may be recommended. However, many common uses do not yet have formal scientific evidence to support them.

Evidence Table

    Disclaimer

    These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

    Osteoarthritis

    There has been substantial research on the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Most studies focus on knee, cervical, and hip osteoarthritis symptoms. In recent years, the evidence has improved and is now considered strong for the use of acupuncture in osteoarthritis of the knee.

    Pain (chronic)

    Strong evidence supports the use of acupuncture in long-lasting back pain and neck pain.

    Post-operative pain

    Several studies have tested the effects of acupuncture on pain after surgery. A clear majority of these studies have reported beneficial effects.

    Dental procedures

    Results of acupuncture in postoperative dental pain have been promising and supported by numerous studies.

    Endoscopy procedure pain

    There is good evidence from several studies supporting the use of acupuncture to reduce pain and discomfort during endoscopy or gastroscopy.

    Fibromyalgia

    There is evidence from several studies suggesting that acupuncture may help with pain relief in fibromyalgia. Some research suggests it may also improve symptoms of fatigue and anxiety.

    Nausea and vomiting (chemotherapy-induced)

    Evidence from several small studies supports the use of acupuncture at a specific point on the wrist (P6) to help chemotherapy patients reduce nausea and vomiting. Electroacupuncture has also been used in combination with anti-nausea medications.

    Post-operative nausea / vomiting (adults)

    Evidence supports the use of acupuncture at the wrist P6 point for the relief of post-operative nausea and vomiting in adults. Some research has shown that acupuncture is equally as effective as anti-nausea drugs.

    Acute cerebral infarction

    Acupuncture may regulate metabolic disorders of lipids and improve main clinical symptoms in patients with cerebral infarction and hyperlipidemia. Better-designed trials are needed to confirm these results.

    Anesthesia

    Based on the possible pain-relieving effects of electroacupuncture, this therapy has been suggested as a possible form of anesthesia. Limited research has tested its anesthestic effects in patients undergoing heart surgery. More research is needed to determine if this is a safe and effective treatment.

    Angina pectoris (chest pain)

    Some research has suggested that acupuncture might help reduce distress and symptoms of angina, but this has not been consistently shown in other studies.

    Ankylosing spondylitis

    Based on limited research, acupuncture combined with motor therapy may help treat ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease of the spine and nearby joints.

    Annexitis

    There is not enough evidence to recommend for or against the use of acupuncture in patients with annexitis (inflammation of the uterus).

    Anxiety

    Several studies suggest that acupuncture may help improve symptoms of anxiety, especially before surgical or diagnostic procedures. However, the sum of the evidence is conflicting.

    Asthma

    Some research suggests that acupuncture may help prevent exercise-induced asthma. It may also reduce the perceived level of breathlessness associated with asthma or emphysema and allow patients to take lower doses of asthma medications. However, the available studies are insufficient for making strong recommendations.

    Autism

    Early research suggests that a combination of electroacupuncture and behavioral or educational therapy may help improve symptoms of autism. However, acupuncture did not improve intelligence. More research is needed to confirm these early findings.

    Bladder disorders

    Acupuncture plus Methycobal® has been studied as a possible treatment for diabetic neurogenic bladder. This condition occurs when a problem with the nervous system prevents people from properly controlling their bladders. More research is needed to determine if acupuncture is effective for this disorder.

    Blood circulation (following hysterectomy)

    Hand acupuncture has been compared to moxibustion in relieving pain in women who have undergone hysterectomies; however, it is impossible to reach a firm conclusion at this time.

    Blood vessel disorders (aortitis)

    Researchers have tested the effects of acupuncture-moxibustion on multiple aortitis, a condition that causes the main blood vessel (called the aorta) to swell. Although acupuncture-moxibustion was shown to be more effective than standard medications, more research with acupuncture alone is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.

    Breast cancer (vasomotor symptoms)

    Early research suggests that acupuncture or electroacupuncture may help treat vasomotor symptoms, such as hot flashes, in breast cancer patients. More study is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

    Breast milk stimulant

    Early research suggests that acupuncture may improve breast milk flow in women who do not produce enough milk after delivery. More research is needed in this area.

    Burn pain

    There is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against the use of acupuncture in pain associated with burns.

    Cancer pain

    There has been limited research on acupuncture for cancer pain, and the research that was done was shown to have mixed results. More studies are needed to determine potential benefits.

    Cardiovascular conditions

    Acupuncture has been found to be superior to medication (shenmai injection) for low pulse pressure syndrome. More studies are needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.

    Carpal tunnel syndrome

    Currently, there is insufficient evidence available to recommend for or against the use of acupuncture in carpal tunnel syndrome.

    Cerebral palsy

    There is not enough evidence available from well-designed studies to recommend either for or against the use of acupuncture in cerebral palsy. Many studies combined acupuncture with rehabilitation therapies, such as motor therapy.

    Cervical spondylosis

    Both needle-knife therapy and acupuncture have been used to treat cervical spondylosis, with one study showing needle knife therapy as a superior treatment. However, higher-quality studies are needed before strong recommendations can be made.

    Chemotherapy-induced leukopenia

    It is unclear if acupuncture can help increase white blood cells (called leukocytes) in cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy. Well-designed research is needed in this area.

    Cognitive disorders

    There is not enough available evidence to recommend either for or against the use of acupuncture in nervous system disorders that affect brain functioning or communication.

    Colitis

    Early study has used acupuncture for acute and chronic colitis. More study is needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

    Communication disorder (aphasia)

    The combination of acupuncture and Schuell’s stimulation and psychological care may be effective in treating aphasia due to cerebrovascular disorders. Additional study is needed in this area.

    COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

    Overall there is insufficient evidence on which to base strong recommendations for acupuncture to treat breathlessness in patients with COPD.

    Dementia

    There is not enough evidence to recommend the use of acupuncture in the treatment of vascular dementia.

    Depression

    There is some evidence to suggest that acupuncture may help treat symptoms of depression, especially in menopausal or stroke patients. Study results are mixed. More studies are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

    Diabetes

    There is a lack of well-designed studies to determine the effect of acupuncture in this condition.

    Diabetic retinopathy

    There is promising research that acupuncture may be an effective therapy for diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that may lead to vision loss. However, additional studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.

    Diagnostic procedure (pneumoencephalography side effects)

    Acupuncture therapy has been suggested as a possible treatment for the side effects associated with various diagnostic procedures. More research is needed in this area.

    Dry mouth (xerostomia)

    There is some limited evidence suggesting that acupuncture may stimulate salivary flow in some patients with dry mouth (xerostomia). More studies of better design are needed to evaluate this use.

    Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation)

    It is unclear if acupuncture can improve symptoms of painful menstruation. Study results are mixed. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

    Dyspepsia (functional)

    Currently, there is not enough data to recommend for or against the use of acupuncture in functional dyspepsia.

    Enuresis (bedwetting)

    The available studies do not offer enough evidence to make a strong recommendation.

    Epilepsy

    The use of acupuncture as a treatment for epilepsy has aroused researcher interest because many patients have difficulty controlling their seizures despite antiepileptic treatments. Limited evidence does not support acupuncture as a treatment for epilepsy, but more studies are needed in this area.

    Erectile dysfunction

    There is insufficient available evidence to recommend for or against acupuncture in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

    Exercise performance

    It is unclear if acupuncture can improve muscular performance, muscle strength, or heart rate recovery after exercise. Additional research is needed to determine if acupuncture is an effective therapy for exercise performance.

    Eye disorders (ophthalmoplegia)

    Early evidence has shown that eye-needling combined with medication may be more effective than medication alone in the treatment of ophthalmoplegia, a condition that causes paralysis of the motor nerves of the eye.

    Facial paralysis

    Acupuncture has been studied as a possible therapy for facial paralysis. Additional studies are needed before recommendations can be made.

    Fasciitis (back muscles)

    Fasciitis is inflammation of the layer of connective tissue that covers, separates, and supports muscles. Acupuncture has been studied in fasciitis of back muscles. More studies are needed to make any firm conclusions.

    Fever

    Early research suggests that acupuncture may help reduce a high fever associated with the common cold. More research is needed to confirm these early findings.

    Gastric disorders (gastroparesis)

    Early evidence suggests that acupuncture may help treat gastroparesis, which refers to nerve or muscle damage in the stomach that causes slow digestion and emptying, vomiting, nausea, and bloating. More research is needed in this area.

    Headache (migraine, myogenic, tension, unspecified)

    Acupuncture may offer promise for various types of headaches, but higher quality studies are needed before recommendations can be made.

    Hemiplegia

    Hemiplegia is a condition of full or partial paralysis of one side of the body due to disease, trauma, or stroke. Various types of acupuncture, such as scalp acupuncture and traditional acupuncture, have been used to treat hemiplegia. Although early research is promising, more studies are needed before a recommendation can be made.

    Hemorrhage (cerebral, vocal cords)

    Limited evidence indicates that acupuncture may benefit patients with cerebral hemorrhage or submucosal hemorrhage of the vocal cords. Study of acupuncture’s effects alone vs. in combination with other therapies may help make a firm conclusion.

    Herpes zoster

    Based on early research, acupuncture therapy may help treat herpes zoster and improve symptoms of pain. However, more high-quality studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

    High blood pressure

    There is insufficient evidence available on which to base any recommendation for or against the use of acupuncture in high blood pressure.

    Hormone regulation

    It is unclear if acupuncture has beneficial effects on hormone levels in patients with Sjogren’s syndrome or partial androgen deficiency of aging (PADAM). More research is needed in this area.

    Infertility

    More studies are needed to determine the benefits of acupuncture on infertility.

    Insomnia

    Traditional Chinese medicine commonly uses acupuncture to treat insomnia. A review of the available studies found reports of benefit, but major weaknesses in the design of the research makes the evidence insufficient to recommend for or against acupuncture for insomnia.

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

    Although limited evidence suggests benefit may be possible, more studies are needed in order to make recommendations for or against acupuncture in IBS.

    Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eyes)

    There is not enough evidence on which to base recommendations for keratoconjunctivitis sicca at this time.

    Kidney disorders

    There has been limited research on acupuncture for kidney disorders, such as gouty renal damage or kidney hypertension of long-lasting (chronic) kidney disease. There is currently not enough available evidence to recommend for or against the use of acupuncture in these conditions.

    Mastitis (breast pain and inflammation)

    Acupuncture has been studied as a treatment for mastitis in breastfeeding women. Researchers have found that acupuncture may have beneficial effects when combined with standard treatment. More research is needed in this area.

    Menopausal symptoms

    There has been limited research on acupuncture for menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and menopause-related high blood pressure. However, because results are mixed, more studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

    Muscle strength

    A limited amount of research suggests that acupuncture may increase leg strength. Additional studies are needed.

    Myofascial pain

    Early research suggests that acupuncture may help reduce myofascial pain. However, additional studies are needed to confirm these findings.

    Nausea

    Acupuncture may be effective in reducing the occurrence of nonspecific nausea. Additional studies are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

    Nausea and vomiting (postoperative in children)

    Several attempts have been made to document the benefits of stimulation of the P6 wrist point to reduce post-operative nausea and vomiting. Both acupuncture and acupressure wristbands have been tried. Study results are mixed. More trials are needed to make any firm conclusion regarding the use of acupuncture in adults and children.

    Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum)

    It is unclear if acupuncture can help treat nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Additional studies are needed in this area.

    Nerve damage

    It is unclear if acupuncture can help treat nerve damage. More research is needed in this area.

    Pain (craniofacial)

    There is insufficient evidence available on which to base recommendations for or against acupuncture in craniofacial pain.

    Parkinson’s disease

    There is not sufficient evidence available on which to base recommendations for or against acupuncture in Parkinson’s disease.

    Peptic ulcers

    Based on early study results, acupuncture may have a beneficial effect on peptic ulcers. However, a conclusion cannot be made until more studies are performed.

    Polycystic ovary syndrome

    Acupuncture and electroacupuncture may help prevent and reduce symptoms in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome. However, further research is needed before a firm recommendation can be made.

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

    It is unclear if acupuncture is beneficial for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Early study results are promising, but larger studies are needed in this area.

    Pregnancy (reducing back strain)

    Early evidence suggests that acupuncture may substantially reduce low back pain in pregnancy. More studies are needed to confirm these results.

    Pregnancy and labor

    Acupuncture has been reported to encourage uterine contractions during labor and to reduce the pain of labor. However, results of formal studies are mixed, and the research designs have been weak. More studies are needed to clarify the potential of acupuncture in labor.

    Pregnancy support

    Moxibustion has been used historically in acupuncture to correct cephalic version (breech presentation) by turning the fetus’ head in utero. Further studies are needed to determine its role in the correction of breech presentation.

    Prostatitis (prostate inflammation)

    While limited evidence suggests benefit may be possible, there is insufficient available evidence to recommend either for or against acupuncture in prostatitis.

    Pruritus (itchy skin)

    While limited evidence suggests benefit may be possible, there is insufficient available evidence to recommend either for or against acupuncture in uremic cutaneous pruritus.

    Raynaud’s disease

    There is insufficient evidence on which to base recommendations for the use of acupuncture in Raynaud’s syndrome at this time.

    Rectal prolapse

    While limited evidence suggests benefit may be possible, there is insufficient available evidence to recommend either for or against acupuncture in prolapsed rectums.

    Heart attack treatment/prevention/rehabilitation

    Few studies have tested the use of specific therapies, separate from herbal or oral supplements, in rehabilitation of the heart. It remains unclear if acupuncture is an effective treatment.

    Rheumatoid arthritis

    Some studies of weak design have reported that acupuncture may relieve pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis. However, a well-designed trial was unable to confirm this. More evidence is needed to clarify if or when acupuncture is beneficial in rheumatoid arthritis.

    Rhinitis

    There is not enough available evidence on which to base recommendations for acupuncture in patients with rhinitis.

    Shoulder pain

    The available research on acupuncture for shoulder pain of varying causes shows mixed results.

    Sinusitis (chronic)

    More studies are needed of stronger design to determine whether or not acupuncture offers benefit in sinusitis.

    Skin disorders

    There is evidence from several studies suggesting that laser acupuncture therapy may be beneficial for skin conditions. However, due to weaknesses in study methods, as well as the wide variety of conditions (such as psoriasis) in this category, it is difficult to make specific recommendations.

    Sleep apnea

    Some evidence suggests that acupuncture may help improve breathing in patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea. Additional studies are needed to confirm these early findings.

    Speech disorders (aphasia)

    Scalp acupuncture combined with rehabilitation training may help improve symptoms of aphasia, a condition that occurs when a person has difficulty understanding and/or producing spoken and written language. More research is needed in this area.

    Stroke recovery

    Several studies have been conducted in stroke rehabilitation. More studies are needed to determine what can be expected in the use of acupuncture with regard to this application.

    Substance abuse

    The evidence on acupuncture in treating substance abuse is mixed. More studies are needed to evaluate the use of acupuncture in this application.

    Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders

    The available evidence suggests acupuncture may be comparable to other forms of conservative treatments. However, the studies that have been performed have major weaknesses that call into question the meaning of the findings. More studies of better design are needed for definitive recommendations.

    Tennis elbow

    Evidence suggests that there is a reduction of pain and an improvement of function in the afflicted elbow.

    Tourette’s syndrome

    Based on early evidence, acupuncture may be an effective therapy for Tourette’s syndrome. Further research is needed to confirm these results.

    Trigeminal neuralgia (primary)

    Currently, there is insufficient available evidence to recommend either for or against acupuncture in primary trigeminal neuralgia.

    Urinary tract infection

    Early study in women suggests a reduced recurrence over six months and reduced residual urine (urine retained in the bladder after voiding). Better-designed studies are needed to determine recommendations for this use.

    Vertigo (cervical)

    Both ginger moxibustion and acupuncture have been studied for cervical vertigo, although few conclusions can be drawn at this time.

    Vision problems

    Acupuncture has been combined with other therapies, such as massage, manual therapy, and Chinese medicine, to treat vision problems, including nearsightedness, optic atrophy, and visual recovery. Additional studies with acupuncture alone are needed before any conclusions can be made.

    Vulvodynia

    Subjective observations in one small study suggest a possible role of acupuncture in the treatment of vulvodynia symptoms (chronic burning or stinging sensation of the vulva in the vagina). However, there is currently not enough evidence on which to base recommendations.

    Weight loss

    Evidence is inconsistent on whether acupuncture might contribute to weight loss. Some studies show modest benefit but others show none. Currently, there is not enough available evidence to recommend either for or against acupuncture in weight loss.

    Hearing loss

    Early evidence suggests that acupuncture is not effective in treating hearing loss in adults or children.

    Smoking cessation

    Numerous studies of acupuncture for smoking cessation have been conducted, and the quality of studies has varied widely. Results have been inconsistent. Several critical reviews of the research have concluded that the evidence does not support acupuncture as a reliable or effective method for smoking cessation. There may, however, be some benefit in reducing side effects of withdrawal such as irritation, cigarette craving, and headache.

    Tinnitus

    Small trials have been conducted and found no benefits over placebo for the treatment of chronic unilateral or bilateral tinnitus. However, non-controlled case series have found possible benefit. Larger studies are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.

    Whiplash (adjunct)

    Early study does not show that laser acupuncture is any more effective than sham laser acupuncture when used in combination with drugs and other mobilization therapies. More study is needed in this area.

*Key to grades:

Tradition

    Disclaimer

    The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

Safety

    Disclaimer

    Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

Attribution

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration ().

Bibliography

    Disclaimer

    Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to . Selected references are listed below.

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