Acupuncture Treatment health benefit for migraine headache, fibromyalgia, and other medical conditions
April 10 2017 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese method of stimulating specific body points through the insertion of specialized pins that sometimes carry faint electrical charges. Traditionally, acupuncture has been used to maintain and restore body functions.
   Acupuncture has been shown to relieve nausea, stress, arthritis pain in the knee and pelvic pain during pregnancy. Recent studies indicate it may also be beneficial in other conditions including fibromyalgia, hot flashes, and migraine headache. Acupuncture treatment is considered in the category of alternative medicine in the US.
   Acupuncture has been used for more than 2,000 years in Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of ailments. Specific acupuncture points on the skin are connected to internal pathways (meridians) that conduct energy, or qi ("chee"), and stimulating these points with a fine needle promotes the healthy flow of qi.


How does acupuncture treatment work?
Recent medical research has found that acupuncture treatment may work by altering signals among nerve cells or by affecting the release of various chemicals of the central nervous system.


Risks, safety, side effects
In rare cases bacterial infections, hepatitis B and C, and possibly even HIV are being transmitted via acupuncture through the use of contaminated needles, cotton swabs and hot packs. Hematomas can occur in those who have a bleeding disorder or poor clotting abilities.


My personal experience with an acupuncturist at Santa Barbara acupuncture clinic
I have had an acupuncture treatment by Rachel Petkus, L., Ac., an acupuncturist in Santa Barbara, CA. Afterwards I felt a sense of relaxation, balance, and peacefulness. Santa Barbara Acupuncture by Rachel Petkus, Contact her at 805.708.8689. She also works out of Santa Ynez, CA.


Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2013. Treatment of knee osteoarthritis with acupuncture and moxibustion: a randomized controlled trial. The combined therapy of acupuncture and moxibustion achieves the safe and effective therapeutic effect with less adverse reactions in the treatment of KOA. The immediate effect in the combined therapy group is not so obvious as compared with the western medication, but the long-term efficacy is remarkably superior to western medication.


Acupuncture and blood pressure, treatment for hypertension
Standardized or individualized traditional Chinese acupuncture treatment is no better than a sham procedure in reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension. Findings from small clinical trials and studies of individual cases have suggested a benefit for acupuncture in treating hypertension, Dr. Eric A. Macklin and colleagues note in the medical journal Hypertension. However, until now, no data from large trials have been reported. The Stop Hypertension with the Acupuncture Research Program -- dubbed SHARP -- involved 192 subjects with untreated high blood pressure, which averaged about 149/93. Macklin, from the New England Research Institutes in Watertown, Massachusetts, and his team randomly assigned the participants to undergo standardized acupuncture at preselected points, individualized traditional Chinese acupuncture, or sham acupuncture -- that is, needle puncture at non-acupuncture sites. The subjects underwent up to 12 sessions over 6 to 8 weeks, and their blood pressure was monitored every 2 weeks for 10 weeks. The average drop in blood pressure from baseline to 10 weeks was similar in each group, with a decline of around 3 points in the upper and lower readings -- not enough to make much difference.


Chemotherapy induced nausea
Acupuncture treatment, in conjunction with the latest drugs to prevent nausea and vomiting, seems to help relieve chemotherapy-induced vomiting. Despite new drugs that control nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy (anti-emetics), many cancer patients still experience these unpleasant side effects, which can impair quality of life, cause emotional distress, and aggravate cancer-related symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy and weakness. The ancient Chinese technique of acupuncture, used to treat a variety of ailments by stimulating specific points on the body, has become increasingly popular for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.


Depression and mood
Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2013. Study on clinical effect enhancement of acupuncture for depression with chronic pain treated with SSRI antidepressants. Acupuncture enhances the clinical efficacy on depression with chronic pain treated with SSRI antidepressants and reduces the adverse reactions.


Erectile dysfunction or impotence treatment
Dr. Myeong Soo Lee, at Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine in Daejeon, reviewed 80 research studies involving acupuncture and erectile dysfunction treatment, Myeong Soo Lee found only 2 that were randomized controlled trials - that is, studies that compared a treatment group with group that did not receive treatment or underwent a sham treatment. One of those two trials reported benefits, while the other did not. Thus far the results do not provide convincing evidence that acupuncture offers any benefit as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. BJU International, 2009.


Hot flashes and menopause
Acupuncture treatment may offer women an alternative for easing hot flashes during menopause. In a study of 29 women with frequent, daily hot flashes, those who received acupuncture began to have fewer and less severe symptoms during the night. As nighttime hot flashes improved, so did the quality of the women's sleep. Hot flashes are a common part of menopause, and women who get them often have difficulty getting a good night's sleep. Hormone replacement therapy is effective at quelling hot flashes, but given the risks of the therapy -- including increased risks of heart disease and breast cancer -- many women are interested in alternative treatments. There's some evidence that acupuncture affects hormones related to both sleep and menopause. Fertility and Sterility, 2006.


Hot flashes for breast cancer survivors
Needles beat pills for treating hot flashes in breast cancer survivors, according to a new trial that compared acupuncture, "sham" acupuncture, the medication gabapentin and a placebo pill. Aug. 24, 2015, Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Low Back Pain
2006 - Acupuncture improves low back pain, compared with no treatment. However, minimal intervention consisting of superficial needle placement at non- acupuncture points resulted in similar improvements. Past studies have yielded inconclusive results concerning the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat lower back pain. German researchers tested 300 patients to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture for lower back pain. The patients were randomly assigned to "real" acupuncture treatment, "sham," or "minimal" acupuncture, or no acupuncture treatment. Real and minimal acupuncture consisted of 12 treatment sessions over 8 weeks. All subjects completed a pain questionnaire at 8, 26 and 52 weeks. After 8 weeks of treatment, pain intensity had decreased by 28 percent in the acupuncture group, 23 percent in the minimal acupuncture group, and 7 percent in the control group. At weeks 26 and 52, back pain was still reduced, with no significant differences between the full-acupuncture and the minimal-acupuncture group. Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, 2006.


2006 study

To compare the effectiveness and costs of acupuncture along with routine care for low back pain to routine care alone, researchers recruited 11,630 patients with chronic low back pain. Of these, 1,549 were randomly assigned to acupuncture and 1,544 to a control group. Patients in the control group were offered acupuncture after three months. The remaining 8,537 patients were included in a nonrandomized acupuncture group. Patients received up to 15 treatments over a three-month period, and were followed for an additional three months. At three months, patients treated with acupuncture showed significantly better back function, on average; 52 percent responded to treatment, compared to 26 percent of control patients. Acupuncture was more costly than routine care for low back pain, but was deemed "cost-effective" in terms of the degree of improvement seen in patients' back function. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2006.


2007 - Acupuncture, real or fake, leads to better improvements in chronic lower back pain than does standard treatment. Dr. Michael Haake, from the University of Regensburg in Bad Abbach, Germany completed trials that involved 1162 patients who had chronic lower back pain for an average of 8 years. They were randomly assigned to get real acupuncture, sham acupuncture, involving needling at non-acupuncture points; or conventional therapy with drugs, physical therapy, and exercise. The sessions were 30-minute long and two sessions were done for five weeks. Patients with a partial response to treatment -- a 10 to 50 percent drop in pain intensity -- were offered five more sessions. After 6 months, Dr. Michael Haake found the treatment response rate was higher in the acupuncture groups than in the other group. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007.


Fibromyalgia treatment naturally
Fibromyalgia patients treated with six sessions of acupuncture experienced significant symptomatic improvement compared to a group given simulated acupuncture sessions.


Migraine headache

Acupuncture treatment, one of the most popular complementary treatments, works as well as standard drugs for migraines, German researchers have reported. They compared the effects of real and fake acupuncture with drug treatments for migraine and found all equally effective. All of the more than 900 patients who had been randomly selected to receive Chinese acupuncture, sham acupuncture or drugs reported similar improvements and reductions in the number of migraine-free days. Traditional Chinese acupuncture involves inserting fine needles at specific energy meridians of the body to reduce pain. In the so-called sham procedure the needles were put in places that were not traditional acupuncture points. Many patients with migraine try other therapies such as acupressure, homeopathy, osteopathy and physiotherapy.


Dr. Li Ying from Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine studied the impact of real versus sham acupuncture in 175 patients meeting standard criteria for migraine, with or without aura, who were having 1 or more migraine attacks per month during the last 3 months and acute migraine attacks for at least 1 year. During an acute migraine attack, patients were randomly assigned to one session of real acupuncture or sham acupuncture followed by observation for 24 hours. Subjects in the real acupuncture group received needling at genuine acupoints while subjects in the two sham groups received needling at predesignated nonacupoints. More patients in the real acupuncture group experienced complete pain relief (41% vs 17%), and most did not experience recurrence or intensification of pain. Headache 2009.


Nausea after surgery
Acupuncture or acupressure stimulation of Pericardium 6 (P6), a point on the wrist, is safe and effective for reducing postoperative nausea and vomiting. The Cochrane Library, 2009.


Pregnancy, labor and delivery
Women who have acupuncture during labor and delivery are less likely to need pain medication or invasive pain relief methods such as epidurals. Birth, 2009.


Acupuncture and osteoarthritis
Patients with chronic pain related to osteoarthritis experience clinical improvement with acupuncture treatment plus routine care. German researchers randomly assigned 632 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip to undergo up to 15 sessions of acupuncture over a 3-month period or to a "control" group that got no acupuncture. A second group of 2921 patients did not consent to random placement, and all of these patients received acupuncture. The participants in both trials were allowed to continue on their usual treatment. After 3 months, greater improvements were seen in scores on a standardized osteoarthritis severity scale in the acupuncture group than in the control group, Dr. Claudia M. Witt, of Charite University Medical Center, Berlin, and colleagues report. Overall, 34.5 percent of the acupuncture group had a good response to treatment after 3 months, compared with 6.5 percent of the control group. Quality of life improvements were also more pronounced in the acupuncture group compared with the control group. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 2006.


Restless leg syndrome
I have had severe restless leg syndrome for about 15 years ( arms and legs ). I have gone to a sleep specialist that prescribed Requip and also Gabapentin to take in the evening. My symptoms have now invaded my afternoon hours and I have had to take a 1mg tablet to relieve the symptoms to get through the work day even though it makes me very tired. My question is, has there been any studies done as to the effectiveness of acupuncture for restless leg syndrome? My symptoms have degraded my life and activities to a degree that is becoming unbearable.
   A Medline review reveals this study.


Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2008
Observation on therapeutic effect of acupuncture on restless legs syndrome.
To compare therapeutic effects of acupuncture combined with TDP radiation and western medicine on restless legs syndrome. Acupuncture combined with TDP radiation has a better therapeutic effect.


Seizures, epilepsy
Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014. Acupuncture for refractory epilepsy: role of thalamus. Neurostimulation procedures like vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) and deep brain stimulation have been used to treat refractory epilepsy and other neurological disorders. While holding promise, they are invasive interventions with serious complications and adverse effects. Moreover, their efficacies are modest with less seizure free. Acupuncture is a simple, safe, and effective traditional healing modality for a wide range of diseases including pain and epilepsy. Thalamus takes critical role in sensory transmission and is highly involved in epilepsy genesis particularly the absence epilepsy. Considering thalamus serves as a convergent structure for both acupuncture and VNS and the thalamic neuronal activities can be modulated by acupuncture, we propose that acupuncture could be a promising therapy or at least a screening tool to select suitable candidates for those invasive modalities in the management of refractory epilepsy.


Sexual dysfunction
This study suggests a potential role for acupuncture in the treatment of the sexual side-effects of SSRIs and SNRIs as well for a potential benefit of integrating medical and complementary and alternative practitioners. J Altern Complement Med. 2013. Efficacy of Acupuncture Treatment of Sexual Dysfunction Secondary to Antidepressants. However, there are many herbs that are quite effective, for instance Tongkat Ali herb for sexual dysfunction treatment.


Weight loss
I have not seen consistent results yet, I do not think this type of treatment has a major effect.


I really enjoy your website and was wondering if you could add to it your thoughts on acupuncture and chiropracty. I respect your opinion a lot, and fully appreciate the fact that you use actual published studies to support or refute various treatments.
   I have not studied acupuncture and chiropractic treatment enough to have the knowledge required to give an informed opinion.


My acupuncture practitioner gave my Chinese herbs called cuscuta and also asked me to take curcumin capsules. Can both be taken together?
   One has to be careful with cuscuta since high doses can cause insomnia. It is also known as dodder seed.


Would taking a multivitamin pill influence the outcome from acupuncture treatment?
   I doubt it would.