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What acupuncture can do for you (and what it can’t)

Updated: Sep 4

picture of acupuncturist's hand handling acupuncture needs on back of patient.  Very delicate copper-handled needles line up on the patients back.  With gentle lighting and black background.

When it comes to acupuncture, talking about evidence is tricky.



When people ask, "Can acupuncture treat [insert random medical condition here]", we can't just say a simple yes or no.


Why is this?


Well, acupuncture relies on a rather ancient system of Chinese Medicine. The language of traditional Chinese Medicine does not lend itself to modern scientific language about evidence. When an acupuncturist talks about the Gallbladder, they may not mean the gallbladder. When they talk about the Lung, they may not mean the lungs. (Did you see the sneaky capital letters? Capital letters are a way for Chinese Medicine practitioners to note that they don't mean the literal meaning of the word!) In Chinese Medicine theory certain words are used to describe concepts and functions of the body which in modern scientific theory we do not link together.


Oh, and don't even get me started on what is "qi": is it "energy", is it "lifeforce", is it "electricity"? Open up a Chinese dictionary, and you will find about 140 definitions for this one simple word.


On top of that is the other question of evidence. What evidence do you want when you ask "Can acupuncture treat [random condition inserted]?". Do you want the acupuncturist's view of what they have seen in their clinic and had success in treating, do you want to know what traditional Chinese Medicine theory suggests can be treated, or do you want to know which conditions have evidence published in academic peer-reviewed journals of the highest quality?


Talking about all of this is very hard. And judging the evidence is quite hard too. How many Randomised Controlled Trials of acupuncture will there ever really be, given the costs involved and the fact that acupuncture points cannot be patented and present little commercial value to any big Pharma company seeking to prove that acupuncture works for [random condition duly inserted]?


So, here is what can be said, given all of this...


In my clinic, I have had a great deal of experience treating patients for a wide-range of conditions as well as for general wellbeing. I will treat you using Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, that will aim to support you in your condition and bring about tangible change at the level of body, mind and spirit.

Image of SanYinJiao point, also known as Spleen 6.  Known to be good for Short-term improvement in the symptoms of overactive bladder syndrome with electro-acupuncture.
SanYinJiao acupuncture point (image: Wellcome Collection)

There is really good quality clinical evidence that suggests acupuncture is effective in the short-term relief of:

tension-type headaches,

migraines,

chronic low back pain,

neck pain,

TMJ pain,

temporary adjunctive treatment for osteoarthritis knee pain, and

short-term improvement in the symptoms of overactive bladder syndrome (through electro-acupuncture at SanYinJiao acupuncture point).


If you wish to dip your toe in the water of assessing scientific evidence, then there is a really useful introduction on the British Acupuncture Council's Evidence page.


If all of this has left you more confused then when you started reading this article, then feel free just to drop me a line or a text to talk about your condition and how acupuncture might help you.


#acupuncture #evidence

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