Acupuncture for Pain Management:
The Evidence

When we were interns in our final year of grad school, one of my teachers was notorious for interrupting us mid-sentence shortly after he’d begun debriefing us on the acupuncture we’d just done with our patients.

He’d stand up abruptly, gesture out the conference room door, and ask us to follow him down the hallway and back into the treatment room we’d just left (no matter how many times we swore to him that our patients were resting peacefully).

He did it, we quickly learned, because he sincerely believed that acupuncture could help these people; most specifically, their pain. If our words weren’t enough to convince him that the acupuncture we’d done had really improved the pain our patients had come in with, he went straight to the source. If they didn’t report an improvement (and he liked significant improvements), he’d have us try again. He was a believer, this one. He still is.

It turns out he’s not alone.

In the fall of 2016, I had the pleasure of hearing Arya Nielsen, PhD speak at the Pacific Symposium. At the time, Dr. Nielsen was an American acupuncturist, an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Director of the Acupuncture Fellowship for Inpatient Care at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. Yet, perhaps most importantly, she was a researcher.

And the focus of the research she presented that day was on the use of acupuncture to treat both: acute pain and the need for medication (such as opioids); and chronic pain conditions.

Because she encouraged all who were in attendance to share the educational matter cited in her presentation so that the scholarly trail and source material were accessible to anyone who might benefit from it, the remainder of this article is my sharing it with you:

Dr. Nielsen's presentation

Dr. Nielsen started with a high-level overview of what she termed the “medical evidence hierarchy.”


She explained that, historically-speaking, many of the research studies involving the use of acupuncture to treat pain (or really any) conditions were lower in that hierarchy. Case studies, pilot trials, or controlled trials without randomization were the norm. This meant that acupuncture was rarely seen as a serious treatment option in the eyes of those who adhered to the hierarchy (the Western medical/research world).

The remainder of her presentation, however, went on to highlight several studies involving the use of acupuncture to treat both acute and chronic pain conditions in the highest parts of that hierarchy. One study found that when compared to IV morphine, acupuncture relieved acute pain faster, more effectively, and had better tolerance. And another, at the very top of the hierarchy, found that acupuncture was effective for the treatment of chronic pain (back and neck, osteoarthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain) and was therefore a reasonable referral option.

Detailed Slides from Dr. Nielsen's Presentation

The slides included below demonstrate the data collected from these studies, and give specifics on the results that were achieved for patients dealing with both acute and chronic pain conditions.


Relief is Possible

Maybe you’re a believer like my teacher.

Or maybe you’re a believer and like to have some evidence (because you realize the weight of that evidence) like Dr. Nielsen.

Or maybe you simply like to see some evidence (of a little efficacy, please!) before you act.

In any case, both the believers and the evidence have spoken.

If you’re struggling with any kind of pain and your current treatments aren’t making any headway, contact me to find out more about how acupuncture can help you today. I promise you, and the research shows, it can.