Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture University Research Discoveries

acupuncture university study

Acupuncture research definitively proves that it is an effective treatment modality, especially for pain relief. This has been augmented by contributions from Georgetown University, Harvard Medical School, Tufts University, Emory University, University of California, and other prestigious institutions. In addition, endorsements from the American Academy of Physicians and inclusion within the USA Medicare system have added to both the acceptance and access to acupuncture.

Medicare picked up acupuncture coverage in 2020. The rollout is encumbered by limitations and exclusions, but it is a start. For now, coverage is limited to a small number of back pain acupuncture treatments and all care must be billed through an MDs office.

Harvard Medical School neuroscientists have proven that acupuncture downregulates inflammation in response to bacterial infections. [1] The study demonstrates that acupuncture is effective in reducing the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokine storms. The investigation shows that acupuncture increases survival rates and prevents disease progression. The research team includes members from the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School (Boston), Baylor College of Medicine (Houston, Texas), and the McNair Medical Institute (Houston, Texas).

In another investigation, Harvard Medical School, Georgetown University, University of Arizona, Creighton University, and Louisiana State University researchers conclude that acupuncture reduces the frequency, intensity, and duration of migraine attacks. [2] The study also notes that patients receiving acupuncture treatments are less prone to secondary conditions, including anxiety attacks and depression.

In an independent investigation, Harvard Medical School, Xidian University, and Capital Medical University researchers demonstrate that acupuncture reduces migraine attacks and they have found a way to predict acupuncture treatment success using MRIs. [3] The researchers discovered that a patient’s brain structure is predictive of the success rate achieved by acupuncture for the reduction or elimination of migraines. Using MRIs and machine learning, specific patterns in brain gray matter prior to treatment were correlated with improved response rates.

Patients received 3 acupuncture treatments per week for 4 weeks. Each acupuncture treatment lasted for a total of 30 minutes. The acupuncture points applied to all patients were the following:

  • GV20 (Baihui)
  • GV24 (Shenting)
  • GB13 (Benshen)
  • GB8 (Shuaigu)
  • GB20 (Fengchi)

The data-driven machine learning process had an 83% accuracy rate in determining responders from non-responders. The researchers note MRIs can help to improve the cost-effectiveness of access to care. Using MRIs, the research team knows whether or not the aforementioned acupuncture treatment formula will reduce or eliminate migraines.

Tufts University School of Medicine (Boston, Massachusetts) researchers conducted a meta-analysis and conclude that acupuncture is safe and effective for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis, low back pain, and fibromyalgia. They add that studies indicate that acupuncture produces pain relieving effects by stimulating specific nerve pathways that trigger the body’s natural opioid systems.

The Tufts University research team notes that fMRIs “demonstrate that acupuncture has regionally specific, quantifiable effects on relevant structures and restoration of the balance in the connectivity of the human brain implicated in descending pain modulation, and altered pain-related attention and memory.” The researchers conclude that acupuncture is a “safe and reasonable referral option” for patients with knee osteoarthritis and chronic lower back pain” and add that scientific data demonstrates that patients suffering from fibromyalgia experience relief from acupuncture. [4]

Research published in JAMA Oncology including contributions from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York), RMIT University (Australia), and Guangdong University (Guangzhou) researchers finds acupuncture effective for the relief of cancer pain and reduces the need for opioids. The investigators determined that true acupuncture produces significantly greater pain reduction than sham controls. They add that hospitals need to include acupuncture services to address this demand based on the “growing evidence of the efficacy of acupuncture.” [5]

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston) and Fudan University Cancer Center (Shanghai) researchers conclude that acupuncture reduces the frequency and severity of xerostomia (dry mouth). The investigation of acupuncture’s effects on head and neck cancer patients receiving radiation finds that acupuncture “resulted in significantly fewer and less severe RIX [radiation-induced xerostomia] symptoms 1 year after treatment vs SCC [standard care control].” [6]

All acupuncturists providing treatment were licensed acupuncturists and were trained at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The acupuncture point prescription in the study was the following:

  • CV24
  • LU7
  • KD6
  • Auricular: Shenmen, Point Zero, Salivary Gland 2 Prime, Larynx

Emory University and Atlanta VA Medical Center researchers find acupuncture effective for the alleviation of sleep disorders for veterans with PTSD and brain injuries. The research team concludes that acupuncture produces significant improvements in both subjective and objective sleep parameters for veterans with mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), including veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The team notes that “acupuncture provides meaningful relief for a particularly recalcitrant problem affecting large segments of the veteran population.” [7]

Researchers from Washington State University, Yale School of Medicine, New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the University of California conclude that acupuncture and cupping are safe and effective treatments for lumbopelvic pain during pregnancy. Acupoints were selected on an individual basis. Commonly used acupoints were Yanglingquan (GB34) and Zulinqi (GB41), which were used in over 50% of all patients. Ashi points on the lower back were used 25–50% of the time, excluding direct needling of Ciliao (BL32) and Zhongliao (BL33). Ashi points surrounding Huantiao (GB30) and ashi points on, near, or between Qiuxu (GB40), Shenmai (BL62), and Taichong (LV3) were also used in 25–50% of treatments. [8]

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York, NY) researchers conclude that the analgesic effects of acupuncture are superior to sham controls and pain relief lasts over time. The research team concludes that acupuncture is an effective treatment modality for chronic pain and referral to an acupuncturist is a reasonable treatment option. In a meta-analysis of 20,827 patients across 39 clinical trials, the researchers determined that acupuncture’s pain relieving effects for patients with musculoskeletal pain, headaches, shoulder pain, and arthritis persist over time—with only a 15% decrease in treatment efficacy after one year. [9] In addition, Stanford University researchers conclude that acupuncture reduces and delays the need for opioids after total knee replacement surgery. [10]

The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends acupuncture for the treatment of back pain. The ACP notes that nonpharmacologic treatment with acupuncture for the treatment of chronic low back pain is recommended. The official grade by the ACP for the use of acupuncture is a “strong recommendation.” [11]


[1] Liu, Shenbin, Zhi-Fu Wang, Yang-Shuai Su, Russell S. Ray, Xiang-Hong Jing, Yan-Qing Wang, and Qiufu Ma. "Somatotopic Organization and Intensity Dependence in Driving Distinct NPY-Expressing Sympathetic Pathways by Electroacupuncture." Neuron (2020).
[2] Urits, Ivan, Megha Patel, Mary Elizabeth Putz, Nikolas R. Monteferrante, Diep Nguyen, Daniel An, Elyse M. Cornett, Jamal Hasoon, Alan D. Kaye, and Omar Viswanath. "Acupuncture and Its Role in the Treatment of Migraine Headaches." Neurology and Therapy (2020): 1-20. Author Affiliations:
Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center— Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.
Department of Anesthesiology, University of Arizona College of Medicine–Phoenix, Phoenix, Arizona.
Department of Anesthesiology, Creighton University School of Medicine, Omaha, Nebraska.
Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC.
Department of Anesthesiology, Louisiana State University Health Shreveport, Shreveport, Louisiana.
Valley Pain Consultants–Envision Physician Services, Phoenix, Arizona.
[3] Yang, X.J., Liu, L., Xu, Z.L., Zhang, Y.J., Liu, D.P., Fishers, M., Zhang, L., Sun, J.B., Liu, P., Zeng, X. and Wang, L.P., 2020. Baseline Brain Gray Matter Volume as a Predictor of Acupuncture Outcome in Treating Migraine. Frontiers in Neurology, 11, p.111.
Author Affiliations:
Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and Harvard Medical School (Boston, Massachusetts).
Engineering Research Center of Molecular and Neuro Imaging of Ministry of Education, Xidian University.
Beijing Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Capital Medical University.
China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.
[4] Zhang, YuJuan, and Chenchen Wang. "Acupuncture and Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain." Current Rheumatology Reports 22, no. 11 (2020): 1-11. Tufts University School of Medicine (Boston, Massachusetts).
[5] He, Yihan, Xinfeng Guo, Brian H. May, Anthony Lin Zhang, Yihong Liu, Chuanjian Lu, Jun J. Mao, Charlie Changli Xue, and Haibo Zhang. "Clinical Evidence for Association of Acupuncture and Acupressure With Improved Cancer Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." JAMA oncology (2019).
[6] Garcia, M.K., Meng, Z., Rosenthal, D.I., Shen, Y., Chambers, M., Yang, P., Wei, Q., Hu, C., Wu, C., Bei, W. and Prinsloo, S., 2019. Effect of True and Sham Acupuncture on Radiation-Induced Xerostomia Among Patients With Head and Neck Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network Open, 2(12), pp.e1916910-e1916910.
[7] Huang, W., Johnson, T., Kutner, N., Halpin, S., Weiss, P., Griffiths, P. and Bliwise, D., 2018. Acupuncture for treatment of persistent disturbed sleep: A randomized clinical trial in veterans with mild traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 61, p.e89.
[8] Soliday E. Betts D. “Treating Pain in Pregnancy with Acupuncture: Observational Study Results from a Free Clinic in New Zealand” Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies 2018;11(1):25e30.
Author Information:
1. Department of Human Development, Washington State University Vancouver, Vancouver, Washington, USA.
2. National Institute of Complementary Medicine at University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia.
3. New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Wellington, New Zealand.
4. Department of Anesthesiology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
5. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
6. Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
7. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
8. Women's Education and Life Learning Center, Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut
9. Departments of Anesthesiology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Human Behavior, University of California School of Medicine, Irvine, California.
[9] Vickers, Andrew J., Emily A. Vertosick, George Lewith, Hugh MacPherson, Nadine E. Foster, Karen J. Sherman, Dominik Irnich, Claudia M. Witt, and Klaus Linde. "Acupuncture for chronic pain: update of an individual patient data meta-analysis." The Journal of Pain (2017).
[10] Maradit, H., Larson, D. R., Crowson, C. S., Kremers, W. K., Washington, R. E., Steiner, C. A., . . . Berry, D. J. (2015, September 02). Prevalence of Total Hip and Knee Replacement in the United States. Retrieved October 07, 2017,
[11] Qaseem, Amir, Timothy J. Wilt, Robert M. McLean, and Mary Ann Forciea. "Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of PhysiciansNoninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain." Annals of Internal Medicine (2017).


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