Feature Article

Acupuncture: panacea or placebo?

Philip J Siddall



Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years and is used by many medical practitioners as a regular part of their clinical practice. However, there is still confusion and scepticism regarding the way that acupuncture works and whether it is of any use in treating patients. Here, current use and evidence of efficacy in a number of clinical conditions is reviewed.

Key Points

  • Although more than one in six GPs in Australia use acupuncture as part of their practice, its place in modern medicine is still under debate.
  • The way acupuncture is practised may vary in terms of diagnosis (‘Western’ v. ‘Eastern’), needle placement, needle manipulation, and length of treatment.
  • There is now good experimental evidence that acupuncture has physiological effects, especially in the area of analgesia.
  • There is good evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating acute postoperative pain, nausea and vomiting.
  • There is not yet evidence to conclude firmly the efficacy of acupuncture in chronic pain.