Evidence-Based Acupuncture: East Meets West

Currently, more than 1.5 billion people worldwide suffer from chronic pain of varying degrees.
There is mounting evidence of increased incidence of pain and injuries affecting the major joints in the body:

  1. Foot and Ankle
  2. Knee
  3. Low back and hip
  4. Shoulder
  5. Head and Neck
  6. Elbow
  7. Wrist


Foot/Ankle Injuries

  • Plantar Fasciitis-  Accounts for more than 1 million doctor visits per year
  • Ankle Sprain- Most common sports related injury creating high risk for developing chronic ankle instability

Knee Injuries

  • More than 200,000 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries occur annually with 70-75% being non-contact injuries
  • Osteoarthritis occurs at a 10 x greater rate after an ACL injury

Low Back Pain

  • Affects nearly 80% of adults
  • 1/3 of all work injuries involve trunk
  • Annual costs associated with low back pain is greater than $100 billion

Clark, M. A., Lucett, S., & Corn, R. J. (2008). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Neck pain

  • Posture abnormalities commonly affect the cervical spine and adjacent areas, causing pain.

Shoulder Injuries

  • 21% of general population report shoulder issues
  • 40% of shoulder problems can last at least 1 year
  • Shoulder impingement is the most common

Clark, M. A., Lucett, S., & Corn, R. J. (2008). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Elbow Injuries

  • Epicondylitis is relatively common among working-age individuals in the general population
  • Repetitive movement for at least two hours daily, and forceful activity (managing physical loads over 20 kg) appears to be risk factors in the general population for the development of epicondylitis (AKA tennis and golfer’s elbow)


Wrist and hand pain

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. A common cause can include mechanical problems in the wrist joint; work stress and/or repeated use of vibrating hand tools
  • Repetitive motion injuries of the wrist and hand are tissue injuries that occur as a result of repeated motions. They are among the most common injuries in the United States. All of these disorders are made worse by the strains of daily living.
  • Most patients with chronic symptoms suggest a degenerative condition that should be labeled as “tendinosis” or “tendinopathy rather than tendonitis

Treating chronic pain

While anti-inflammatory and other pain medications may have their place for short term use in acute pain management, due to a plethora of side effects, long term use should be discouraged.

The best treatment plans for chronic pain are those tailored to the individual, with the goals of treatment being to reduce pain and improve function.

There are a number of studies showing the efficacy of acupuncture for chronic pain conditions:

Plantar Fasciitis

Acupuncture is effective in treating patients with chronic heel pain due to plantar fasciitis and the addition of trigger point acupuncture in poor or non-responders may be useful.

Knee osteoarthritis

knee pain and dysfunction associated with osteoarthritis of the knee affects thousands of individuals across the country and is a major cause of disability among adults. Acupuncture is considered a potentially useful treatment for osteoarthritis.


Low back pain

There is current evidence  that acupuncture may be more effective than medication for symptom improvement or relief of  acute lower back pain.

Long-term pain-relieving effect of needle acupuncture is also beneficial  in some patients with chronic low back pain.

Neck pain and Headaches

Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for selected patients with chronic neck pain.

A systematic reviews on acupuncture in migraine and in Tension Type Headache (TTH) suggest that acupuncture is an effective and valuable option for patients suffering from migraine or frequent TTH.  Moreover, acupuncture seems to be a cost-effective treatment.

Shoulder pain

Acupuncture may be an effective treatment for chronic shoulder pain, especially when the therapy is focused on trigger points.

Tennis Elbow

Lateral epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow) is the most frequent cause of pain around the elbow joint. It results in dysfunction of the elbow and deterioration of one’s quality of life.

There is strong evidence suggesting that acupuncture is effective in the short-term relief of lateral epicondyle pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Acupuncture is a widely used symptomatic treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).  The evidence for acupuncture as a symptomatic therapy of CTS is encouraging, especially for those who have an intolerance or contraindication for oral steroids or for those who do not opt for early surgery.

Sports injuries and Performance

Traumatic injuries are the number one sports-related injury in contact sports.

Acupuncture treatment focuses on traditional acupuncture points, local tender points, trigger points, or motor points and addresses the muscle spindle fibers.

Acupuncture improves circulation, increases the rate of healing and recovery, has a dramatic effect on reducing inflammation and activates the action potential of the muscle, i.e. A weak muscle can be immediately strengthened .

Many believe that acupuncture should be considered a valuable asset in the treatment of sports-related injuries, and that it can be a value in comprehensive clinics

Li, Dongcheng, Ricard, Mark D. Sport Injuries & Acupuncture. Oriental Medicine Journal. Aug2011, Vol. 19 Issue 5, p6-13. 8p.


Conclusion- East Meets West

It is likely that at some point you have or will be affected by pain. Acupuncture has been used successfully to treat a variety of painful conditions for over 2000 years.

While the ancient model appears to have withstood the test of time, Western medicine  has reinterpreted acupuncture through medical imaging, cell biology and physiology, providing a scientific basis for its use and application as a viable alternative or complement to other therapies for a number of painful conditions.


About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin