Studies show conclusively that acupuncture works for certain health conditions—but no one knows exactly why.

The Oriental perspective says that a flow of life energy in our bodies (called gi in Chinese medicine) moves through channels, or meridians, maintaining health. Along these meridians are acupoints. When acupoints are stimulated by very thin needles (which usually cause very little discomfort), the flow of qi is balanced and strengthened, preventing and relieving health problems.

Here are problems that acupuncture has consistently been shown to help…

Chronic Low Back Pain

In a study of 638 people with chronic low back pain, it was found that 10 treatments of acupuncture over seven weeks were more than twice as effective as conventional care (painkillers, muscle relaxants and/or physical therapy) in increasing everyday functioning.


German doctors studied 3,633 people with chronic pain from osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, all of whom were receiving standard care (such as painkillers). The doctors found that those who also received three months of acupuncture showed 36% improvement in pain, stiffness and everyday physical functioning, compared with the group that didn't receive acupuncture. Acupuncture can result in "marked clinical improvement" in pain and quality of life, concluded the researchers in Arthritis & Rheumatism.


German researchers analyzed 22 studies involving more than 4,400 people with migraines and found that acupuncture was equally or more effective than medications for reducing the frequency of migraines. The same researchers reviewed 11 studies on acupuncture and tension headaches involving more than 2,300 patients and found that acupuncture relieved pain better than traditional care.

Hot Flashes

In a study of 174 peri- and postmenopausal women, those receiving 12 sessions of acupuncture over four weeks had a 59% decrease in hot flashes compared with those receiving usual care, which includes hormone therapy, prescription medications and/or breathing techniques. Women receiving acupuncture also had significantly improved mood, sleep and other menopausal symptoms, compared with those who did not have acupuncture, reported Korean researchers in Menopause.


In a study of 225 infertile women, those who received acupuncture before in vitro fertilization (IVF) were 54% more likely to become pregnant, reported German researchers in Fertility and Sterility.

Also, research shows that acupuncture not only can improve the chance that IVF will result in pregnancy but also can help a woman feel less anxious and more optimistic after IVF.

Postoperative and chemotherapy-caused nausea and vomiting.

There are dozens of studies showing that acupuncture can relieve nausea and vomiting after an operation or after chemotherapy for cancer. In one study, researchers at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine found that patients scheduled for open-heart surgery who had an acupuncture treatment 30 minutes to three hours before the operation had less postoperative nausea, compared with patients who didn't receive acupuncture.

For practical reasons, most patients are seen by an acupuncturist the night before an operation. The patient also should be treated as soon as possible after he/she is released from the hospital.

Acupuncture treatments for chemotherapy-induced nausea also work best when given before and after treatment. And these acupuncture treatments may not only ease nausea but also improve appetite, lessen anxiety and depression, and help the patient feel more like socializing with family and friends an important factor in healing).

Getting Treatment

Depending on the condition, I usually treat a patient once or twice a week for four to six weeks. However, this may not completely resolve a condition, especially if it is chronic. Your acupuncturist can advise you about further treatment. Acupuncture may be covered by insurance-check with your provider.

To find a qualified acupuncturist...

  • Ask a friend. Find out if a friend you respect has been to or heard good things about a qualified acupuncturist in your area. Also, your doctor may know of an acupuncturist whom he/she has referred patients to or who has been spoken highly of by his patients.
  • Check credentials. Look for a licensed acupuncturist at the American Association of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (AAAOM) Web site ( Use the "Find Practitioner" search function under "Patients" to locate a licensed acupuncturist near you.
  • Call the acupuncturist. Ask whether he/ she has experience in treating your particular condition. If not, find another acupuncturist.
  • Use your instincts during the call. Are you encouraged by the conversation? You want an acupuncturist who inspires confidence and has a manner that reassures you.

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