Does Acupuncture Work, or is it HOCUS POCUS?

I’m often asked if acupuncture “really works”. To some degree, I understand the skepticism. I was once a grave skeptic myself. On the other hand, things that don’t work or have no use don’t typically survive several millennia.

The earliest published documentation of acupuncture dates back to approximately 100 B.C.E. in the Chinese text Huangdi Neijing, translated as The Inner Cannon of the Yellow Emperor.  However, the 1991 discovery of Ötzi the iceman, a well-preserved mummy of a man who was murdered about 5,300 years ago, suggests acupuncture may have been around even thousands of years before 100 B.C.E. Genetic analysis of Ötzi revealed he suffered a variety of ailments prior to his death. He had 61 tattoos on his body that researchers believe correspond to areas where Ötzi received medical treatment for his ailments and many of those markings correspond with known acupuncture points.

Modern science has somewhat struggled in its acceptance of acupuncture because it’s difficult to establish a good control group for studies using traditional scientific method. For example, how can researchers absolutely ensure the needles will go in the exact same locations at the exact same depths from one person to another since acupuncture is administered by hand? Sham acupuncture studies using needle-like tools that don’t actually pierce the skin suggest that simple manipulation of acupuncture points can be just as effective as acupuncture needles. Myriad studies have shown that acupuncture’s efficacy may be due to various mechanisms such as stimulating the release of neurotransmitters and blocking pain receptors. Fortunately, Western medicine is moving towards “evidence informed practice” which combines traditional evidence-based research with patient experience and practice expertise to inform patient treatment.

…And that brings me back to the question, “does it really work?” While I can’t always explain why, I can’t deny the personal benefits I’ve experienced or the pain relief and improvements in daily living that my patients have experienced:

  • When my asthmatics haven’t had to use their puffers…
  • When my patients no longer experience allergy symptoms during allergy season…
  • When the patients who couldn’t lift their arms to their ears, now can…
  • When the women who didn’t experience regular menses, now do…
  • When the constipated patients finally have bowel movements…
  • When those who couldn’t sleep, now do…
Could they all be lying and paying me just to make me feel good? I think not.
Experience the magic…it ain’t no hocus pocus!