Does Acupuncture Work? A List of Treatable Conditions


I first discovered acupuncture more than 20 years ago, when I heard about it from an acquaintance. It sounded like an intriguing treatment that could benefit my patients. Though, before recommending it to them, I had to try it myself.

I’ll admit – I was skeptical at first. The idea that someone would stick needles into my body to help me feel better just didn’t sound right. But that first acupuncture experience was a revelation! I was very curious to see if inserting the needles would be painful, since none of my patients were fond of needles. But I quickly discovered that it’s rare to feel more than a tiny pinch when the ultra-slender, thinner-than-a-human hair needles are inserted. In fact, most of the time, I felt no pain whatsoever.

The second thing I noticed was how deeply relaxed I felt once the needles were inserted. That feeling lasted for hours, even though the needles were removed after 30 minutes or so. In addition to being relaxed, I also felt healthier and more balanced than I had in a long time. And I was thrilled to have discovered a treatment that could provide these benefits to my patients.

Ever since then, I’ve had an acupuncturist on my staff, and I encourage patients to take advantage of this ancient, effective resource. In fact, I’d like take this opportunity to introduce an experienced acupuncturist and Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Martin Bales, who treats patients at my clinic.

What is Acupuncture and How Does it Work?

As Dr. Bales explains, acupuncture is a centuries-old system that uses extremely fine needles to stimulate certain points in the body. Long ago, acupuncturists defined 14 different lines – known as “meridians” – in the body. When your life force – known as your “qi” or “chi” (pronounced “chee”) – becomes trapped, acupuncture frees it, relieving pain, discomfort, or other symptoms you might be experiencing.

While meridians and life forces are not typically discussed in conventional medical settings, don’t let that discourage you from trying acupuncture. The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged that acupuncture is helpful for more than 50 different health issues, including stress. Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) also reports successful use of acupuncture for a long list of ailments. According to their statistics, the number of individuals who rely on acupuncture in the U.S. is in the millions and steadily growing. Even the U.S. Air Force treats everything from battlefield wounds to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with acupuncture.

As for effectiveness, acupuncture has been widely studied, and a growing consensus of medical experts admits that it does work – even if they can’t quite explain how. Don’t let that worry you, though; there are a number of drug effects that can’t be explained, too.

Clinical trials have also shown that acupuncture works, especially for treating pain. A recent German study, for example, compared acupuncture treatments with a combination of physical therapy, exercise, and medication on back-pain patients. After five weeks, nearly half of the acupuncture patients experienced pain relief, while only a little more than one-fourth of the conventionally treated patients reported feeling better.

“Acupuncture is really a great system,” explains Dr. Bales. “It treats the whole patient and the individual’s unique pattern of illness, not just their symptoms. And there are no side effects – something that’s hard to avoid with prescription drugs.

Which Conditions Can Be Benefited by Acupuncture Treatment?

The answer to this question, says Dr. Bales, is actually quite a long list that includes:

  • Pain anywhere in the body
  • Arthritis
  • Stress
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive disorders
  • Mental health and emotional issues
  • Addiction and drug dependence
  • Sinusitis, hay fever, and the common cold
  • Constipation
  • Brain fog and attention span issues
  • Cravings
  • Menopause symptoms
  • Smoking
  • Skin ailments
  • Bladder and kidney difficulties
  • Sciatica
  • Migraines
  • Tendonitis

It’s hard to believe that just one method of treatment can tackle such a long list of diverse ailments. And that’s just a partial list, so you can see how versatile acupuncture is. It can be used to treat everything from asthma to mood swings to tinnitus (ringing in the ears). In other words, acupuncture can often be an effective option for conditions that are difficult or impossible to treat with conventional methods or situations where traditional doctors have given up, as my patient Mary discovered.

Dr. Bales tells me that there is one aspect to acupuncture that surprises most patients. “It’s very relaxing and calming,” he explains, “and, for some people, it’s the only chance they get for a ‘time out’ from life. So that’s another benefit.”

Generally, an acupuncture session lasts anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour. Dr. Bales usually urges his patients to start with two treatments per week for the first two weeks, followed by a re-evaluation. Once the health concern is gone or under control, you might need an occasional maintenance visit, but many people remain healthy without returning.

If you do decide to try acupuncture, visit to find accredited, licensed practitioners with a minimum of 4,000 hours of training in your area. If you have a bleeding disorder or a pacemaker, acupuncture might pose a risk; otherwise, it is widely considered safe, even for children.

If needles – even virtually pain-free, extremely fine needles – are just not for you, a similar procedure known as acupressure may work. Acupressure is often called “acupuncture without needles,” because it replaces needles with simple finger and/or hand pressure in the same target spots on the body. Be aware, however, that acupressure’s effectiveness is not supported by nearly as much clinical evidence as acupuncture.

The next time you find yourself frustrated by conventional treatment methods, I urge you to look into acupuncture as a possible alternative. In just a few sessions, you could experience relief from any one of dozens of stubborn, hard-to-treat health conditions while stimulating the body’s own healing resources – something no prescription drug can ever do for you.


Last Updated: August 16, 2018
Originally Published: June 25, 2013