Acupuncture For Pain Acupuncture Pain Relief

Acupuncture for pain relief is one of the most common uses of acupuncture. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), pain is a result of blockages in the flow of energy (Qi). Acupuncture removes these blockages, allowing the body to heal itself.

Western medicine attempts to find underlying physiological reasons for acupuncture pain relief. One theory is that acupuncture simulates the nervous system, causing the brain to release pain-killing opioids.

Pain and Acupuncture Research

Many studies have examined pain and acupuncture, with mixed results. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM, 2009), the pain conditions for which research provides at least some support for acupuncture pain relief include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headache
  • Knee pain due to osteoarthritis
  • Low-back pain
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Myofascial pain (muscle pain from sensitive areas called “trigger points”)
  • Neck pain
  • Postoperative dental pain
  • Tennis elbow.

The NCCAM notes that comparing research results from different acupuncture studies is difficult because the studies use different acupuncture techniques, controls (comparison groups) and ways to measure outcomes.

Another limitation of studies is that they don’t use acupuncture in the same way that acupuncturists treat patients. Studies use one treatment protocol for everyone in the study, while acupuncturists treat each person as an individual, going beyond looking at the name of the person’s condition.

Acupuncture for Back Pain

A 2009 article published by the American Academy of Family Physicians reviewed several acupuncture back pain studies and reported the following findings:

  • Acupuncture and conventional care are equally effective in pain reduction at 12 months, but acupuncture is more effective at 24 months.
  • Acupuncture is better for immediate pain relief and improves function in the short-term, when compared to a sham treatment or none at all.
  • Acupuncture relieves chronic low-back pain, but no more effectively than other active therapies do.
  • Acupuncture relieves pain more effectively than wait-list controls or conventional therapy do.


Kelly, R. (2009). Acupuncture for pain. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2009). Acupuncture for pain. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from

Marten, S. (2010). Acupuncture for pain treatment: New study provides evidence that acupuncture increases pain threshold. Retrieved March 11, 2011, from