Acupuncture • What is it and does it work?

Acupuncture is based on the belief that disease is caused by the interruption of the flow of energy in the body.

Plastic acupuncture model standing in front of shelves of Chinese herbs

Considered part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and having originated in religious beliefs, acupuncture is difficult for western scientists to study and assess.

In Chinese Medicine, it is believed that the body has energetic lay lines, called meridians. Each meridian is half of a pair, with many “acupoints,” identified as access points to the flow of energy in the body. Pressure on an acupoint produces changes in the energy system, evidenced by the resulting change in the physical body. Throughout the centuries the theory and practice of acupuncture was developed by those who observed the effects of needling in specific areas of the body.

A client may benefit from one session but it is likely that a problem, especially if it is not superficial, will require a course of treatment.

There is still a very large faction of American scientists and educated (or uneducated) people who believe that if something cannot be proved in a research laboratory, then it cannot be valid. The definition of science is the “intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Because scientists haven’t yet figured out how acupuncture might work, they dismiss it as “pseudoscience.” This is only an admission that science doesn’t know something yet, not that science knows that something is not so.

One should always know the risks of a medical procedure and while acupuncture has rarely produced a dire outcome, it does happen. You might be sore or have some minor bleeding. A reused needle might expose you to infection. If a needle is pushed in too deeply, it could puncture something important. These may be rare events, and the numbers reported are very small, but there is no reporting system in acupuncture like there is in western medicine, so we cannot be absolutely certain what the real numbers are. The risks are probably tiny compared to the risks of many procedures in western medicine, where results are often no more certain.

Among the many issues with “scientific research” is that profit is usually the motivation behind studies. If there is nothing that can be patented and sold, then there is very little research done. However, there has been some research in acupuncture that shows successful outcomes for some diseases and conditions, but not others, which surely can be said about any kind of treatment. In general, acupuncture is thought to be good for pain relief, which is not nothing, considering that most western medicines are good for symptom relief or pain relief only, rather than cures. Western medicines have a much higher likelihood to cause undesirable side effects.

If science is all about observation and experimentation, then those who get acupuncture treatments can be their own research scientists and decide for themselves whether or not it is valid.

Acupuncture is not one of my frequent choices for alternative treatment, but I did go to an acupuncturist once for digestive complaints. He didn’t cure my digestive problems, but my dry skin magically became smooth and soft. I got a good result, even if it wasn’t the one I was looking for. I went again, years later, because my blood pressure was very low and the practitioner was able (with about ten treatments) to bring it up to normal, where it stayed.

You can find abstracts online about acupuncture research, which are more likely to be unbiased than articles written by people who denounce everything alternative while raging at alternative practitioners who denounce everything allopathic.   There are useful treatments in both schools of medicine.  Every treatment should be considered carefully.

Ultimately, you will need to give it a try to know if it will work for you and your specific conditions.


  • Bleeding disorders (or use of blood thinners)
  • Having a pacemaker
  • Infectious skin disorder
  • Pregnancy
  • Seizure disorder
  • Use of mind-altering substances


Go to a qualified practitioner who uses clean or single-use needles.