Does acupuncture really work? If so, how?

The theory of Chinese acupuncture is based on a purported life-force called “chi” or “qi.” The needles, inserted into certain “channels,” are supposed to adjust the flow of qi through the body. But there is absolutely no hard scientific evidence that qi even exists, nor that these channels exist. (I ran a GQ thread on that a couple of years ago: So how does acupuncture really work? Or does it?

The NIH has an official Consensus Paper on it. Short version: yes, it helps for some things.

Placebo. Possibly some endorphins. That’s about it.

The Perfect Master speaks:

Funny, I just posted a link about this in another acupuncture thread. this past December, they went a lot further than just believeing it must work for some things:

Acupuncture and Osteoarthritis of the Knee: Press Release, December 20th, 2004

Your link goes to an “alternative healing” website and the “study” was funded by the same organization.

This is like linking to a creationist press release to show “evidence” of Noah’s Ark.

Even after reading the press release I still don’t see anything which goes beyond either placebo or a possible release of endorphins. Self-reported pain relief is not exactly the easiest thing to quantify.

And there are also other studies where acupuncture doesn’t do crap.

The most it can ever do is produce some subjective reports of pain relief. It never actually cures anything.

I have used acupuncture for my asthma and it has truly been a life saver. Usually when I get sick, my lung capacity goes down to about 35-40%. After using acupuncture, while sick, my lung capacity is 98%. I’m not quite sure about the mechanics of it, but I believe it has something to do with activating certain pressure points and increasing circulation through those points, leading to a healthier interior body.

From the Link, which is an NIH site, FYI:

Any involvement by an “alternative healing” organization makes me go :dubious:

But even if we accept the study, the most it shows is some some subjective self-reports of pain relief. Placebo effects and endorphin release can explain that easily. It does not actually verify anything about the amorphous theory of “Ch’i” upon which acupunture is based.

Anecdotal story:
I went to an acupunturist for a multitude of pains (neck, back, knee, and wrists) with no real expectations of what, if any, good it would do (especially to my wallet).

unscientific results, as observed by me:

Neck: No help.

Back: No help.

knee: No help.

Wrists: marked decrease in pain and discomfort. And a temporary ceasation in the need to ‘pop’ them all the time.

So, IMHO, it could work. But don’t expect miracles.

While in general this is most likely a bogus method in terms of any real science behind it, it may be one of those things that works in some cases spite of itself.
My knee jerk reaction was certainly to laugh off acupuncture, but it sounds like from given by **Duck Duck Goose ** early in this thread shows that it appeared useful in some cases. It is my understanding that most studies have shown it does produce a real physiological response, but the problem is that the results are unpredicable.

Certainly the concept of working with chi is most likely bogus. How can one even develop techniques or a map of something that no one can see. This would be akin to somone claiming to getting a “soul massage” that makes them feel oh so much better. I think that we can hazard an educated guess that it is actually has to do with the bodies stimulated nerves and interactions that aren’t quite clear.

It appears that acupressure, which has its orginal roots from acupuncture, is slowly becoming more widely accepted as a medically feasable alternative by some physicans, when other methods have failed for pain management. While there is much more science involved with actual technics and practices, these methods still suffer from its roots in acupucture which is evidenced in the beliefs of energy blockages causing some of the issues it resolves.

The problem with all methods like this is lack of scientific understanding and that these clients need real medical advice to diagnose and treat their symptoms/disease. It may work well as a last resort effort for pain that has been unsuccessfully treated by physicans, but should not be used in any way in place of a qualified physician.

I’m surprised at you, DtC.

Surely you see that we must separate the observable effect (the cessation or reduction of pain due to acupuncture treatment) from the model put forth to explain it (the notion of Ch’i).

I personally don’t currently subscribe to the notion of Ch’i nor the idea that acupuncture is some sort of cure-all. Its primary claim is that it reduces pain, and this study shows some good evidence that it does indeed do just that, at least for this particular type of patient.

From the Abstract of the Publshed Study in the Annals of Internal Medicine:

From the Press Release of the Study:

This is a sound study, obviously designed to reduce pollution by the placebo effect. It was not designed to test the existence of Ch’i, but to test whether acupuncture actually does anything. Perhaps it is realted to endorphin release, which is of course a pain reliever. Most medicinal pain relievers don’t actually cure the cause of pain either, but mask it by endorphins or other mechanisms.

And frankly, if I had some sort of chronic pain, and if acupuncture were just as effective as the latest offering from Pfizer et. al., and therefore the only thing left to choose between was the likely side effects, I’d take “dismissive comments from skeptical acquaintances” over “anal leakage” any day…

This I agree with. I am amenable to evidence that some acupuncture treatments seem to have an incidental effect of (apparently non-placebo) pain relief, although the reason is unknown.

What I am rejecting is the whole Ch’i thing or that acupuncture, as a whole, really amounts to any kind of real scientifically validated theory of treatment. When it works, it works unpredictably, almost accidentally, just like some aspects of shamanistic medicine or “witch doctoring” may have some real effect (herbal remedies, for instance) but that doesn’t mean that any spirits or magic is involved.

Fiddling around, poking people with pins seems to have some goofy effects on their nervous systems. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go with acupuncture.

Question back at ya, do we have to know how something works for it to work?

I’m amazed by the press that acupuncture receives. the fact is, western physicians have been experimenting with it since the days of Dr. Paul Dudley White (President Eisenhower’s personal physician). My point is this: if it worked, then why would Chinese hospitals still be using anesthesia? Face it, acupuncture wopuld win (over anesthesia) hands down!:
-it has no side effects
-it cannot kill the recipient (via overdose)
-it has no residual bad effects
So,why isn’t it in use?
(Answer) :It doesn’t work!

This site is run by an autopsy pathologist, who is, I guess, an open-minded skeptic. The dude does his homework. He checked out a number of studies, some double-blind (controlled by having the practitioner needle fake points), some not so, and found that acupuncture is, in fact, effective for a variety of illnesses, and can be as effective as a local anesthetic for certain types of surgery (dental surgeries were most commonly studied).

It is not effective for everything- like “traditional” Western medicine, it is not a cure-all, and is not effective in 100% of all cases, but apparently, there is something more than a placebo effect going on here.

As to the “qi” issue…

Well, OK, it works, but we don’t know why it works, but just because there is no scientific evidence for the existence of qi (which may mean nothing more than we haven’t figured out how to measure it yet) doesn’t mean we should dismiss the therapy. And if there is no such thing as qi, well, that just means that the ancient Chinese were wrong about why acupuncture works.

Then how do practitioners know where the qi channels run, or that it even exists? How do they test that they have effectively and correctly redirected it, or whatever they are claiming to do?

Centuries of practitioners using their hands, documenting what worked, and what didn’t, and writing down their findings, and mapping the points as they found them. Acupuncture has been around for about 4,000 years, and the massage modality it is based on, probably a couple of thousand years longer than that. Also, I can tell you from personal experience that the points, and in a few individuals, even the entire meridians, can be physically felt. The points feel like a little hollow, sort of like a dip in the road. Marge Simpson would no doubt like to have signs posted at each one.

Well, if working a particular point has the desired effect on the corresponding area of the body, I’d say that would be a pretty fair indication that they have correctly redirected it, or whatever they are claiming to do.

I’m a licensed massage therapist, and I took a class in shiatsu as part of my training. I also had a doctor many years ago who was trained in both Western and Eastern medicine who taught me the bare-bones basics of Korean hand acupuncture (think reflexology with a paper clip).

When I work the point in the fleshy pad between a coworker’s thumb and forefinger, and her period cramps go away, I would say it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ve worked a point along a meridian that somehow wound its way into her lower abdomen. When my supervisor of many years past tried to lift a box that was too heavy for him and aggravated an old shoulder injury and his entire arm went numb, and I grabbed a paper clip and worked the point corresponding to the injured shoulder, and the pain in the shoulder and numbness in the arm below it went away, well, hell, I don’t know how it worked, but my Type A workaholic boss was very happy not to miss most of a days work. Ditto for the stripper with an ulcer who just couldn’t bring herself to stop drinking, and as a consequence managed to all but double herself over with pain. I begged the bartender for a paperclip, worked the point in her hand that corresponded to her stomach, and within five minutes, she was up and dancing again. She looked at me and said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it’s working.” These days, I’d be inclined to use my fingers rather than a paperclip, but hell, whatever gets the job done.

Bottom line, I really don’t know why acupuncture/acupressure/shiatsu works, but until science figures out just exactly what the mechanism is that makes it work, I’ll just call it qi.

It’s better than “Hey, you!”

Maybe later, I’ll tell you about the time in student clinic when I got bitch-slapped by a trigger point I found inside a pressure point.

Now, that was a freaky experience.

An article in the Boston Globe claims there is very good evidence not only for acupuncture, but also for the existance of meridians. As a skeptical guy, I’m a bit hesitant to believe. After all, aren’t there several systems of acupuncture? If so, which one was most accurate?

The word ‘chi’ is used to describe more than one concept. This has increased the level of confusion about the issue.