Bronwyn's picture


Looking on the internet, which, by the way, you should never do, I’ve noticed a handful of acupuncture myths that continue to cycle through popular consciousness. Some of them are funny, some are frightening, but the one thing they have in common is being woefully uninformed. I have picked a few of my favourites for your perusal.


  1. Acupuncture is only a placebo with no real evidence.


There are few AcuMyths more ubiquitous. There are countless hundreds of well-designed trials on acupuncture for a wide variety of conditions. I say “well-designed” with a caveat, however, as acupuncture is notoriously difficult to study given its whole-systems nature. Skeptics argue that if it can’t be properly studied, then it’s quackery by default, but understanding how acupuncture works goes a long way in understanding why our standard scientific meter stick is unwieldy in this context.


Here’s the Cole’s notes version: Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT’s) require a placebo group, who receive a non-acupuncture intervention, against which to measure the real intervention. In order for the trial to work, these participants need to believe that they are receiving real acupuncture. Also, good RCT’s are “double-blind” meaning that the practitioner administering the “dose” doesn’t know which participants are receiving the true or fake treatment. This works really well in drug trials, where the sugar pill can be made identical to the real drug, but with acupuncture, the practitioner certainly knows who’s getting the real treatment.


There are also studies designed to compare “real” (traditional) acupuncture points with “sham”  non-traditional points located adjacent to the real ones. However, sticking a needle anywhere in the body has the potential to affect some physiological change. As a result, many of those trials conclude that acupuncture has the same outcome as the “placebo group” (who had acupuncture as well, as it turns out, only in different spots) and therefore acupuncture doesn’t work.


Having said that, despite all the inherent difficulties of studying this medicine, there are still so many great stats out there. For example, the WHO recommends acupuncture for dozens of conditions.

2.) I am afraid of needles.

This is a phrase I have heard so frequently that it almost deserves its own blog.


You are not afraid of needles.


I typically say something like “that’s no problem; we’ll just go nice a slow.” I often have 2 needles inserted when they ask “have you started yet?”


In my 14+ years of practice in Traditional Chinese Medicine, I have seen 2 people who have a genuine vasovagal syncope response to needles, aka fear of needles. That’s when you see a needle and almost immediately lose consciousness. These people have a severe sympathetic nervous stress response to needles for some reason, often a past trauma with needles (like my patient who was hospitalized for several years as a very small child). Real, true fear of needles is no small thing, but it is rare. The fact is nobody likes needles; they are sharp implements, and the idea of remaining passive on a treatment table while letting someone stick them in your body is counter-intuitive to say the least. However, acupuncture and getting blood drawn are very different experiences. Acupuncture needles are thin and sharp enough that you often don’t even feel them being inserted. The experience is pleasant and restful, and most people leave feeling amazing.


3.) Acupuncture is only good for pain


Acupuncture first became popular in North America after New York Times Journalist James Reston famously wrote an article about his emergency appendectomy while in China in 1971. Because acupuncture works so quickly and effectively for pain, it has a reputation for treating only that.


There are a couple of things that acupuncture is doing. Firstly, it causes your body to release endorphins, which are your own natural painkillers. There is also the “gate control theory of pain” whereby Acupuncture is believed to “gate-out” pain signals to the brain.


However, because of its mechanism of action, acupuncture can treat a wide variety of conditions. First and foremost, acupuncture engages the parasympathetics. By turning off the fight or flight mechanisms of your body, it can produce a cascade of responses, ultimately resulting in increased blood flow. The importance of increased blood flow can not be overstated. For example, this provides more circulation in the gut (for digestive disorders) and the pelvic organs (for fertility treatment) . This is fundamental, as we want as much healthy, fresh, oxygenated blood as possible irrigating your ovaries as the follicles are developing.


There are so many more AcuMyths I could bust, but the list is long. For example we “wash and re-use our needles” (absolutely false: the needles are sterile-packaged, single use); there’s a spiritual or religious component to the treatment (also false); “you have to be Chinese for it to work” or “you have to be Chinese to practice it” (....What? Really?).


One thing you hear about acupuncture that is true, however, is the way it makes you feel. Most people leave with the sensation of floating, and deep relaxation that carries through sometimes for days.


If you have any questions, or would like to chat about your specific health situation, please call the clinic and book a complimentary 15 minute phone consultation.