Acupuncture has been researched for a huge variety of conditions, and it’s shown promise in many of them. But the most promising results, perhaps, are those that consider acupuncture and pain relief.
Houston TX acupuncture practitioners have treated various pain conditions for centuries, and it’s still considered effective for many pain problems, including:
- Headaches and migraines
- Back pain and neck pain
- Menstruation pain
- Neuropathic pain
- Myofascial pain
- Labor pains
We’ll look at each of these in closer depth, and the evidence backing acupuncture’s benefits.
Acupuncture and Pain Relief – a Proven Link
Acupuncture’s efficacy with pain is of great interest to researchers, partly because there isn’t a single agreed-upon reason for it. It’s likely that several factors are behind acupuncture’s effectiveness. They include:
- Stimulates nervous tissue locally and systemically – When acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin, they stimulate nearby nerve pathways, which may help regulate system-level nervous activity. This can help modulate nerve signaling, which may reduce pain signaling, relax muscle tone, and provide several pain-relieving benefits.
- Releases opioid-like substances and endorphins – In response to acupuncture treatment, the body responds by releasing a flood of beneficial biochemicals. Some of these include endorphins (“feel-good” hormones which boost mood and reduce pain signaling) and opioid-like compounds that directly shut off pain receptors.
- Releases neurotransmitters – Neurotransmitters are biochemicals released at the end of nerve fibers, and they influence how neurons are expressed. Acupuncture modulates the release of neurotransmitters and can facilitate the release of pain-reducing biochemicals at nerve sites.
That’s a high-level view of why acupuncture may help with pain. Specifically, though, what conditions can treatment help with? Here are 8 conditions that acupuncture shows promise with:
1) Acupuncture Can Treat Several Types of Headaches
Acupuncture provides effective pain relief for the most common types of headaches, including migraines, cluster headaches and tension headaches. The National Institutes of Health supports the use of acupuncture for this purpose, as well as several other health agencies.
In a 2020 meta-analysis published in Neurological Therapy, researchers looked at hundreds of patients with migraines and other types of headaches, and found evidence that acupuncture was more effective than “sham” acupuncture for reducing headache severity and frequency.
2) Acupuncture is Effective for Back Pain and Neck Pain
Acupuncture is also supported by health agencies as a low-risk option for chronic pain conditions, including back and neck pain.
In a 2012 meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, almost 20,000 patients across several studies were part of a massive review looking at the link between acupuncture treatment and pain relief. The research team found evidence that true acupuncture was more effective than placebo and sham acupuncture at relieving pain and improving quality of life.
3) Acupuncture May Help with Arthritis Pain
A few studies have also postulated a positive link between acupuncture and various arthritic conditions, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
The evidence for acupuncture’s efficacy was strongest for RA patients. In a 2022 systematic review published in the Journal of the Chinese Medicine Association, 12 studies (874 patients in total) were considered for RA and acupuncture. This review specifically targeted studies that used a combination of western medicine and acupuncture to treat patients. Treatments involved true acupuncture (with accurate acupuncture points), electroacupuncture (stimulating acupuncture needles with an electrical current) and moxibustion (using heat to provide additional stimulation during needle insertion). The review team found that acupuncture and western therapies were more effective than western therapies alone.
4) There is Strong Evidence That Acupuncture Can Help with Menstrual Pain and Menopausal Symptoms
There’s a clear link between acupuncture, menstruation, and its related discomforts. And not only does acupuncture help with period pain (dysmenorrhea), but it can also reduce excessive bleeding and help with hot flashes in postmenopausal women.
In a 2017 randomized study published in PLOS ONE, 74 women with self-reported dysmenorrhea were assigned to traditional acupuncture or electroacupuncture groups. Following three months of treatment, both groups experienced significant reductions in pain and several other undesirable effects of menstruation. These effects were still present during a one-year follow-up with the patients.
5) Some Forms of Neuropathic Pain, Including Trigeminal Neuralgia, Respond to Acupuncture Treatment
Neuropathy refers to nerve damage and pain, and it can be a stubborn condition to treat. It may manifest in a number of ways, including peripheral neuropathy and trigeminal neuralgia (face pain). Acupuncture can provide relief with both.
In a 2007 pilot study published in the European Journal of Neurology, 47 patients with confirmed peripheral neuropathy were split into two groups. One group – 21 patients – received acupuncture, and the second group – 26 patients – received other forms of medical care, so they acted as a control group. The researchers found that of the patients in the acupuncture group, 16 experienced improvements in their symptoms, compared to only four members of the control group.
6) Acupuncture is a Popular Option for Myofascial Pain
Myofascial pain is centered in the body’s muscle and fascia – connective tissue that helps hold the muscle together. In people with myofascial pain, these tissues create tight “knots” where the pain is localized. In some people, this pain can be severe.
Acupuncture is considered a strong candidate for myofascial pain treatment, as it’s believed to stimulate trigger points into loosening and unknotting. A 2017 systematic review published in Pain Physician considered this link in depth, by looking at 33 studies and 1,692 patients total. While researchers agreed that higher quality studies were needed, the available evidence showed that acupuncture was more effective than most other treatment protocols in reducing pain severity.
7) Fibromyalgia Can Be Difficult to Treat, But Acupuncture Offers Hope
Fibromyalgia is characterized by musculoskeletal pain that may be widespread and appearing unrelated to any external cause. It may be accompanied with additional symptoms, like fatigue, difficulty sleeping and memory issues. It’s also notoriously difficult to treat, but acupuncture shows promise.
In a 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Pain Research, 12 studies and a few hundred fibromyalgia patients were considered. The researchers found that acupuncture, and electroacupuncture in particular, showed positive effects in pain reduction, fatigue reduction and pain improvement. The researchers speculated that acupuncture’s ability to regulate serotonin and Substance P levels could be behind the improvement, as both are dysregulated in fibromyalgia patients.
8) For Some Women, Acupuncture May Reduce Labor Pains As Well
Several studies have also compared acupuncture to placebo treatments, including sham acupuncture. Overall, better research is needed, but what exists is supportive of acupuncture’s use. A 2015 study that used electroacupuncture on in-labor women, for example, showed reduced pain scores 30-, 60- and 120-minutes following treatment.
Pain Comes in Many Forms, But Acupuncture Treatments Can Provide Wide-Spectrum Relief
Pain is a fact of life. More than 50 million Americans – that’s 20 percent of the U.S. population – have a chronic pain condition that reduces their quality of life. For those millions, acupuncture may provide relief where other options have failed. With its low risk of serious adverse effects, and its proven efficacy in many forms of pain, acupuncture can be a worthwhile addition to any pain-fighting regimen.