Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice originated thousands of years ago. The practice addresses blockages or disturbances in the flow of the body’s life energy, or “qi,” causing health issues.

Issues commonly addressed by acupuncture include:

  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pain (such as headaches, back pain, neck pain)
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Migraines
  • Nausea
  • Sciatica
  • Sinus congestion
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Tinnitus
  • Weight loss

Acupuncture is also used to promote fertility and to quit smoking. The practice is also a component of the treatment for other addictions. Facial acupuncture is used to improve the appearance of skin.

Acupuncturists insert hair-thin needles to specific acupuncture points throughout the body to restore the flow of qi, balance the body’s energy, stimulate healing, and promote relaxation.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are over 1,000 acupuncture points on the body, each lying on an invisible energy channel, or “meridian.” Each meridian is associated with a different organ system.

Low Back Pain

For a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2017, researchers analyzed previously published trials on the use of non-pharmacologic therapies (including acupuncture) for low back pain.

The report’s authors found that acupuncture was associated with decreased pain intensity and better function immediately after an acupuncture treatment, compared with no acupuncture. In the long-term, however, the differences were small or were not clear.


In a 2016 review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, scientists reviewed 22 previously published trials (involving 4985 participants). In their conclusion, they found that adding acupuncture to the treatment of migraine symptoms may reduce the frequency of episodes, however, the size of the effect is small when compared to a sham acupuncture treatment.

Tension Headaches

A 2016 review (involving 12 trials and 2349 participants) suggested that acupuncture involving at least six sessions may help people with frequent tension headaches.

In two studies, acupuncture added to usual care or treatment at the headache onset only (usually with pain medication) resulted in decreased headache frequency compared to those given usual care only.

The researchers note that the specific points used during treatment may play a less important role than previously thought and that much of the benefit may be due to needling effects.

Knee Pain

An analysis of previously published studies found that acupuncture improved physical function in the short and long term in people with chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis, but it appeared to provide only short-term (up to 13 weeks) relief of pain.

Another review, published in JAMA Surgery, analyzed previous studies on non-pharmacological interventions for pain management after total knee arthroplasty and found evidence that acupuncture delayed the use of patient-controlled use of opioid medication to relieve pain.