Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Acupuncture for Chronic Pain?

I understand that a new report has found that acupuncture really works better than other treatments for chronic pain. Can you tell me about it and whether or not acupuncture might be worthwhile for headaches?  

Answer (Published 10/25/2012)

You're likely referring to an analysis from researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which found that acupuncture relieves chronic pain better than standard medical care. The report's authors also concluded that physicians and other health care professionals should consider acupuncture as a valid treatment option. The investigators conducted a review of 29 earlier studies they selected as the most rigorous ones available on the use of acupuncture for pain relief. Combined, these studies included nearly 18,000 patients, and all of them compared actual acupuncture with "sham" treatment – i.e., placement of needles in areas of the body that are not traditional acupuncture points. This was important because it allowed the researchers to determine whether pain relief was really due to acupuncture rather than to a placebo response. In addition, the studies compared acupuncture with the usual medical treatments available for various types of chronic pain. The investigators chose to review only those studies that lasted at least a month and in which the effects of treatment were assessed at least a month after acupuncture treatment began.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Your Whole Body - Foods, herbs and drugs can all interact, sometimes in unexpected ways. Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor takes known interactions into account when developing nutritional supplement recommendations, to help safeguard against adverse effects. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor recommendation today.

The research team also went beyond the usual practice of assembling the results and conclusions of multiple studies. Their method involved looking at the raw data from the original studies so that they could better compare patient responses. They found clear evidence that acupuncture relieved chronic back, neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and pain due to osteoarthritis. They noted that patients treated with acupuncture reported on average, a 50 percent drop in pain, compared to a 42 percent improvement in those who received sham acupuncture and a 28 percent improvement in those who underwent the usual medical care without acupuncture.

Acupuncture is increasingly being recognized by Western medicine as an effective alternative or adjunct to conventional treatments for a long list of conditions including headache, menstrual cramps, joint pain, low back pain, and asthma, as well as for the side effects of chemotherapy and nausea related to pregnancy. I often recommend acupuncture for the pain related to osteoarthritis and for symptoms associated with acute sinusitis. Acupuncture used as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine can work well for addressing autoimmune conditions and infertility. Other studies in the U.S. indicate that it can also help relieve dental pain, migraine headache, and pain due to fibromyalgia. In addition, acupuncture has been shown to assist in the treatment of emotional pain syndromes such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and in achieving pregnancy when used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilization.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here