Acupuncture Reduces Chronic Pain

One in five Australians experience chronic pain serious enough to disable them, costing the country approximately $35 billion a year. People who experience chronic pain (pain that continues for more than three months) often struggle to find effective treatment, and can experience disability and even depression. When people have chronic pain they often self prescribe medications from the chemist or supermarket which can be very dangerous for their health.

A safe and proven effective method of pain relief is acupuncture. Acupuncture can be an effective option for a number of health problems, in particular pain! Acupuncture is a gentle form of drug free healing. It is the oldest system of medicine used today and its effectiveness has been clinically proven for over 3000 years.

In a recent analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers concluded that acupuncture has a definite effect in reducing chronic pain, such as back pain and headaches – more so than standard pain treatment. Lead researcher Andrew Vickers and colleagues set out to determine the effect size of acupuncture for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain.

In an interview with ABC, Vickers was quoted saying the results showed a ‘large difference between true acupuncture and no acupuncture at all, a smaller difference between true and sham acupuncture, but one that is certainly statistically significant’. These findings suggest that acupuncture is a clinically significant method of pain relief.

Acupuncture Cure Chronic Pain

According to Time Magazine:

The findings counter those of the last large study on the subject, which found that the needle technique was no better than a fake acupuncture treatment – using random pricking with toothpicks – in reducing people’s pain. Vickers says his meta-analysis of the data, in which researchers reviewed 29 previous studies involving 17,922 participants, does a few things the previous studies did not. For one, he and his colleagues began by looking at only the most rigorous trials involving acupuncture and pain relief – those that directly compared acupuncture treatment with some type of sham needle therapy in which needles were either inserted only superficially or placed in locations that are not known by acupuncture standards to be key treatment points in the body.

The authors of the analysis contacted each of the researchers on the previous studies to discuss with them how they separated the two treatment groups. By limiting their review to the most robust studies published, the authors could assess with more confidence acupuncture’s true effect on participants’ reports of pain before and after treatment.

Furthermore, as reported by HealthDay:

The authors stressed that although the superiority of true acupuncture over sham acupuncture appeared to be relatively small, the real-world choice patients face is not between acupuncture or fake acupuncture but rather between acupuncture or no acupuncture at all. And in that context they suggested that their findings are ‘of major importance for clinical practice.

“Basically what we see here is that the pain relief difference from acupuncture versus no acupuncture is notable, and important, and difficult to ignore” Vickers said.

Acupuncture Cure Chronic Pain

In older trials among 1,100 patients with chronic lower back pain which had lasted for an average of eight years, almost half (47 per cent) of those who received acupuncture showed significant improvement – compared with barely a quarter (27 per cent) of those given conventional treatment. The effects lasted for at least six months, long after the treatment was completed.

The findings add to evidence accumulated over the past 10 years suggesting that the 3,000-year-old practice of acupuncture is an effective treatment for back pain, which affects up to 70-85 per cent of the population at some point.

The reduction of pain with acupuncture is now proven to be very effective, without the side effects normally associated with pain control drugs.

Dr. Hooper’s Comment

As a clinician, very rarely would I have a patient with a musculoskeletal condition that does not respond well to Acupuncture. Particularly electroacupuncture or neuro-acupuncture. In reality it has little to do with the nature of their complaint and more to do with the concept of giving themselves ‘permission to be there’ for care. Luckily acupuncture works – whether you believe in it or not.

Much of the debate in medicine focuses on the effectiveness of acupuncture compared with ‘sham’ acupuncture. This is a bit of a nonsense because in reality a patient is either going to have acupuncture or not. The only sham is if the practitioner misses the point.

Even then, acupuncture will still have an effect as the local area is still stimulated and similar neurological gating mechanisms are evoked. Western Medicine is always quite critical of Chinese Medicine research because it is not structured in the manner we like to see in literature. Western medicine trials are always concerned with whether acupuncture works or not. Chinese Medicine trials tend to concern themselves with what are the best points or acupuncture point prescriptions for a given condition.



  • Archives of Internal Medicine 2012 Sep 10:1-10 [Epub ahead of print]
  • September 10, 2012


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