What is Acupuncture and what is it good for?

"What is Acupuncture and what is it good for?" These questions are amoung the first on everyone's mind who has heard of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and my short answer is everything. But before you jump on the thought let's explore this further.


What is Acupuncture and what is it good for?

Acupuncture is a detailed system of Chinese medicine that involves inserting thin sterile single-use needles into acupuncture points, to which at times, heat and electrical stimulation are applied to promote natural healing mechanisms in your body to improve it's functioning and your overall health.  Although the action of Acupuncture is both physical and quantum in it's nature, it's helpful to think of the action of Acupuncture in terms of language and perspectives which we are most familiar with in the Western-scientific epistemology.

Through stimulating nervous tissue and activating neural pathways in the brain Acupuncture is able to help regulate hormones, affect dopamine pathways and alleviate pain, as well as stimulate the immune system, regulate sleep and inflammatory pathways, and physically relax tense muscles and moderate blood perfusion to bodily tissues.  Although the affect and use of Acupuncture needles is a main form of treatment in TCM, using diet and lifestyle advice to support and enhance treatment is commonly employed.


Acupuncture and Chinese medical practitioners work by identifying patterns of disharmony in the body and selecting points that stimulate the bodies natural mechanisms to harmonize these disorders and recover from specific body states.  In order to identify these patterns a practitioner will use inspection, auscultation and olfaction, palpation, inquiry and the tongue and pulse to collect information about the body's expression of these patterns. Because acupuncture works on these whole body patterns, and doesn't focus on specific diseases, by harmonizing patterns we can both treat and prevent disease by moderating pathogenic environments in the body.  When our body maintains a healthy, well regulated, homeostatic environment disease is less likely to occur.

The following list provides examples of only some of the researched applications of Acupuncture. Keep in mind that many studies also fail to en-capture the true essence of an acupuncture treatment, may be statistically underpowered, or poorly designed, but still many of these studies provide proof that acupuncture is an effective and safe therapy to treat many common disorders and disease states. More modern research is being conducted all the time! (Check PubMed)

According to the World Health Organization's report in 2003, compiled from over 255 trials prior to and including data before and up until 1999, acupuncture has been shown to be:

An an effective treatment of:

  • Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy

  • Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)

  • Biliary colic

  • Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)

  • Dysentery, acute bacillary

  • Dysmenorrhoea, primary

  • Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)

  • Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)

  • Headache

  • Hypertension, essential

  • Hypotension, primary

  • Induction of labour

  • Knee pain

  • Leukopenia

  • Low back pain

  • Malposition of fetus, correction of

  • Morning sickness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Neck pain

  • Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)

  • Periarthritis of shoulder

  • Postoperative pain

  • Renal colic

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Sciatica

  • Sprain

  • Stroke

  • Tennis elbow


Can theraputically benefit the following diseases, symptoms or conditions but for which further proof is needed:

  • Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)

  • Acne vulgaris

  • Alcohol dependence and detoxification

  • Bell’s palsy

  • Bronchial asthma

  • Cancer pain

  • Cardiac neurosis

  • Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation

  • Cholelithiasis

  • Competition stress syndrome

  • Craniocerebral injury, closed

  • Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent

  • Earache

  • Epidemic haemorrhagic fever

  • Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)

  • Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection

  • Female infertility

  • Facial spasm

  • Female urethral syndrome

  • Fibromyalgia and fasciitis

  • Gastrokinetic disturbance

  • Gouty arthritis

  • Hepatitis B virus carrier status

  • Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)

  • Hyperlipaemia

  • Hypo-ovarianism

  • Insomnia

  • Labour pain

  • Lactation, deficiency

  • Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic

  • Ménière disease

  • Neuralgia, post-herpetic

  • Neurodermatitis

  • Obesity

  • Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Pain due to endoscopic examination

  • Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein–Leventhal syndrome)

  • Postextubation in children

  • Postoperative convalescence

  • Premenstrual syndrome

  • Prostatitis, chronic

  • Pruritus

  • Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome

  • Raynaud syndrome, primary

  • Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection

  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy

  • Retention of urine, traumatic

  • Schizophrenia

  • Sialism, drug-induced

  • Sjögren syndrome

  • Sore throat (including tonsillitis)

  • Spine pain, acute

  • Stiff neck

  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction

  • Tietze syndrome

  • Tobacco dependence

  • Tourette syndrome

  • Ulcerative colitis, chronic

  • Urolithiasis

  • Vascular dementia

  • Whooping cough (pertussis)


These diseases, symptoms or conditions for which there are only individual controlled trials reporting some therapeutic effects, but for which acupuncture is worth trying because treatment by conventional and other therapies is difficult:

  • Chloasma

  • Choroidopathy, central serous

  • Colour blindness

  • Deafness

  • Hypophrenia

  • Irritable colon syndrome

  • Neuropathic bladder in spinal cord injury

  • Pulmonary heart disease, chronic

  • Small airway obstruction

These diseases, symptoms or conditions which acupuncture may be tried provided the practitioner has special modern medical knowledge and adequate monitoring equipment:

  • Breathlessness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

  • Coma

  • Convulsions in infants

  • Coronary heart disease (angina pectoris)

  • Diarrhoea in infants and young children

  • Encephalitis, viral, in children, late stage

  • Paralysis, progressive bulbar and pseudobulbar



The WHO list may seem extensive but it is incomplete as more and more new studies are emerging that are showing the efficacy of acupuncture treatment.  New trials, results and more recent knowledge about the physical mechanisms of acupuncture treatment is proving Acupuncture and TCM to be a model of healthcare that can be both complimentary and integrative with our modern western medical system.

The larger answer of "acupuncture is good for everything" is an opinion backed by the affect acupuncture has on "stress" and the nervous-endocrine system. Because the real power of acupuncture is in harmonizing the body as a whole, and these overarching symptoms affect the whole body, most patients will find that even if their condition is difficult to treat, that their quality of life will improve with treatment regardless of whether their condition completely resolves. Digestion, sleep, stress, hormonal imbalances, physical and emotional pain can all be addressed!

If you have any doubts about what Acupuncture can successfully treat, talk with your local Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac).