Acupuncture (AP) has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years for pain and other conditions. It is now popular in western society, but is it effective?

Accupuncture needles placed into the skinWhat is acupuncture?

Acupuncture involves stimulating specific points on the body (acupoints) with thin metal needles or low dose laser. According to TCM, pain and illness occur when the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways (meridians) is blocked. AP is thought to unblock this flow of energy.

Modern scientists have now worked out many of the nerve pathways that acupuncture ­stimulates to bring about its effects on the body. The placebo effect may also play an important role in some cases.

Does acupuncture work?

There have been numerous studies on ­acupuncture in recent years. For some conditions, more research is needed before definite conclusions can be made. However, there is good evidence for the following disorders:

  • Pain. Particularly chronic low back pain, acute and chronic neck pain and knee pain.
  • Several types of headache, including migraine.
  • Nausea and vomiting, for example from ­pregnancy, chemotherapy and surgery.
  • Infertility. AP can increase the success of IVF.

Is it safe?

Acupuncture by an experienced medical ­practitioner is generally very safe. ­Serious side effects are rare and include the puncture of an organ (e.g. lung or kidney) or nerve.

Be sure to select a practitioner who is properly qualified (completed a 4–5 year degree) and is registered with a professional association.

Make sure single-use, disposable needles are used. Unclean needles can cause infections or transmit infectious diseases such as hepatitis B.

Do not rely on a diagnosis by a practitioner who does not have substantial medical training. See your GP for an assessment first.


  • Please note this information was correct at time of publication.
  • For up to date information, speak to your doctor.
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