Evidence of effectiveness underpins the validity of all health care interventions. Acupuncture has been practised for thousands of years; research into its effectiveness and cost effectiveness is in its relative infancy. The Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd (AACMA) identified the need for an updated review of the literature with greater rigour than was possible in the past and commissioned The Acupuncture Evidence Project.

Summary of the findings of the Acupuncture Evidence Project (McDonald J, and Janz S, 2017) found evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture for 117 conditions, with stronger evidence for acupuncture’s effectiveness for some conditions than others. Acupuncture is considered safe in the hands of a well-trained practitioner and has been found to be cost effective for some conditions.

Summary of findings

1. Conditions with strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture

Reviews with consistent statistically significant positive effects and where authors have recommended the intervention. The quality of evidence is rated as moderate or high quality.

  • Allergic rhinitis (perennial and seasonal)
  • Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (with anti-emetics)
  • Chronic low back pain
  • Headache (tension-type and chronic)
  • Knee osteoarthritis
  • Migraine prevention
  • Postoperative nausea and vomiting
  • Postoperative pain

  2. Conditions with moderate evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture

Reviews reporting all individual randomised control trials or pooled effects across these trials as positive, but the reviewers deeming the evidence insufficient to draw firm conclusions. The quality of evidence is rated as moderate or high quality.
  • Acute low back pain
  • Acute stroke
  • Ambulatory anaesthesia
  • Anxiety
  • Aromatase-inhibitor-induced arthralgia
  • Asthma in adults
  • Back or pelvic pain during pregnancy
  • Cancer pain
  • Cancer-related fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Craniotomy anaesthesia
  • Depression (with antidepressants)
  • Dry eye
  • Hypertension (with medication)
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Labour pain
  • Lateral elbow pain
  • Menopausal hot flushes
  • Modulating sensory perception thresholds
  • Neck pain
  • Obesity
  • Perimenopausal and postmenopausal insomnia
  • Plantar heel pain
  • Post-stroke insomnia
  • Post-stroke shoulder pain
  • Post-stroke spasticity
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Prostatitis pain/chronic pelvic pain syndrome
  • Recovery after colorectal cancer resection
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Schizophrenia (with antipsychotics)
  • Sciatica
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome (early stage) (with exercise)
  • Shoulder pain
  • Smoking cessation (up to 3 months)
  • Stroke rehabilitation
  • Temporomandibular pain

It is no longer possible to say that the effectiveness of acupuncture is because of the placebo effect, or that it is useful only for musculoskeletal pain.

The full document (81 pages) is available from the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association Ltd (AACMA) http://www.acupuncture.org.au.