Is Acupuncture Real or a Placebo?

In our modern world, where information overload is common, it’s natural to question everything, including the efficacy of traditional practices like acupuncture. 

Many people wonder if the effects of acupuncture are real or merely placebo. Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed so many amazing results that I consider that the effects of acupuncture extend beyond placebo. However, I acknowledge my bias since acupuncture is not only my profession but also my passion. However, I firmly believe in evidence-based medicine, so I want to address this question with scientific backing.

Here is some of the evidence that helps us rule out that acupuncture is a placebo:

  • Physiological Evidence of Acupuncture’s Efficacy.  

Studies have consistently shown that acupuncture triggers significant physiological changes. It stimulates the release of substances, including endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers, making it an effective pain treatment.

  • Neurological Influence. 

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies have demonstrated how acupuncture activates brain regions involved in pain suppression and inflammation reduction.

  • Comparative Studies: Acupuncture vs. Sham Acupuncture

To determine if acupuncture results are placebo, researchers have developed “sham acupuncture,” where needles are placed in non-acupuncture points. Contrary to expectations of a placebo effect, real acupuncture often has significantly better results. A 2018 meta-analysis involving over 20,000 patients found that acupuncture more effectively alleviated back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, headaches, and shoulder pain compared to sham treatments.

  • Veterinary Acupuncture.

Acupuncture is also effective in the veterinary field, demonstrating significant improvements in animals. Animals cannot understand or anticipate the placebo effect; they simply experience the treatment outcomes without expectation. This observation suggests that if acupuncture produces observable benefits in animals, which do not have a psychological bias toward the treatment, the effects of acupuncture are not merely placebo. 

  • Recognition and Insurance Coverage.

Acupuncture is now a benefit covered by many insurance companies. In 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services started covering acupuncture therapy for chronic low back pain. Moreover, many MDs are now practicing Medical acupuncture or referring their patients for acupuncture.

While further research is always beneficial and ongoing, the evidence supports that acupuncture is a valuable component of modern medical practice, being not an alternative practice but a complementary one. 

Having said this, I also believe in the power of our mind. We have the ability to make ourselves feel better. Emotions and thoughts play a significant role in pain and our overall well-being. Acupuncture is effective, and we feel better when we receive treatment, but with the right mindset, we can further enhance our body’s ability to heal.

As an acupuncturist, I have witnessed countless success stories. However, acupuncture may not be for everyone or for everything. If you’re curious whether it could work for you, schedule a free consultation. Explore how this ancient practice can enhance your modern lifestyle.



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