Since the 1990’s “Evidence Based Medicine” has driven the standards for research with which clinical decisions are made. Meta analysis of multiple double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trials are thought to be the most rigorous evidence.
There is a lot of published research for acupuncture, far more than physiotherapy and chiropractic. There is also an increasing trend towards acupuncture research, with double the growth rate compared to biomedical research in the last two decades.
"Acupuncture stimulates peripheral nerves triggering a cascade that causes changes in the brain and the internal organs" - Mel Hopper Koppelman, 2017
In January 2017, John McDonald and Stephen Janz published “The Acupuncture Evidence Project”. They reviewed research for all 122 conditions that research has been carried out on in relation to acupuncture. They found a strength of evidence for acupuncture.
".... It is no longer possible to say that the effectiveness of acupuncture can be attributed to the placebo effect or that it is useful only for musculoskeletal pain" - Stephen Janz, 2017
Interestingly, the strongest evidence was found for conditions conventional medicine can struggle to treat: Migraine prevention, Headache, Low back pain, Knee osteoarthritis, Allergic rhinitis, Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, Post-operative nausea and vomiting, Post-operative pain.
"Acupuncture stimulates the body to release its own natural pain killers. It also stimulates the release of molecules associated with tissue healing and disease resolution." - Mel Hopper Koppelmen, 2017
Furthermore, pain related studies show that acupuncture can still be effective a year later, where as if you stopped taking painkillers, you wouldn’t expect them to keep on working.
"Compared to opioids, acupuncture is more effective and much safer for pain" - Mel Hopper Koppelman, 2017
Acupuncture trials are thought to underestimate the effect of treatment when compared to patient response to outcome surveys. Sham acupuncture in small groups has been shown not to detect significant differences, where as larger trial sizes have done.
"A large body of research indicates that acupuncture is more effective than usual care for many conditions. It also significantly outperforms sham acupuncture, demonstrating specific effects" - Mel Hopper Koppelman, 2017
Mel Hopper Koppelman is Director of Evidence Based Medicine, an acupuncturist and strives to make understanding research more straight forward.