Receiving acupuncture for pain relief is real, not the result of the placebo effect. Mounting research evidence supports the conclusion that acupuncture provides clinically important pain relief. For example, in a study presented at an American College of Rheumatology meeting in San Antonio, Texas, in October 2004, researchers found that patients who received 3 months of regular acupuncture treatments for pain relief experienced less pain and were able to move better than patients who received fake acupuncture treatments, as reported by Reuters.

The study involving acupuncture for pain relief, conducted by Marc Hochberg, MD, MPH, a rheumatologist at the University of Maryland, included 570 patients with arthritis who still experienced pain in spite of taking medication. Subjects were divided into three groups. Each group received one of the following: traditional Chinese acupuncture, fake acupuncture with needles taped to the skin rather than inserted, or educational materials regarding arthritis and pain. Within 8 weeks, the acupuncture patients began feeling significantly better, according to a report in UPI Science News. Patients continued to improve over the 26-week study.

Acupuncture originated in China more than 2,000 years ago and is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM is based on the concept that chi, or “life energy,” flows through all living things and is influenced by yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy). When the flow of chi within the human body is disrupted, yin and yang are said to be out of balance. Acupuncture is a treatment designed to restore this balance.

The acupuncture method receiving the most scientific study uses thin, solid, metallic needles to penetrate the skin at specific anatomical points. While the reasons why acupuncture for pain relief works have not yet been definitively explained, the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine continues to fund studies that examine the practice.