This year, the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) celebrates its 20th birthday. The BAcC is the leading self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture in the UK. All of the acupuncturists at York Clinic are members of the BAcC. You can read more about the BAcC’s work on their website.

Here, Clinic Director and acupuncturist Hugh MacPherson writes about the developments in acupuncture research over the past 20 years.

“It was in a climate of conHugh MacPhersonsiderable uncertainty some 18 years ago that I decided to take up the challenge of becoming an acupuncture researcher. Having seen some cases involving extraordinary recovery of patients, I had a desire to see the scientific literature reflect my observations. I wanted to see more high quality research being conducted and published in high impact journals. I also wanted to see the right sort of research being conducted, research that respected the traditional perspectives of Chinese Medicine. So, after ten years as founder and principal of the Northern College of Acupuncture, I switched my focus to research.

I was privileged to be supported by colleagues from the University of Sheffield and by several small grants, including two from the BAcC. Our first research study involved a survey to assess the safety of acupuncture in everyday practice, which led to a publication in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) stating that acupuncture is safe in competent hands. We went on to conduct a clinical trial of acupuncture for low back pain, also published in the BMJ. This showed the positive effects of acupuncture on pain and that the improvements were at their greatest some two years later, a quite remarkable result. These projects taught me that good research into acupuncture as it is routinely practised can be published in high impact journals.

Another phase of my research started in 2003 when I was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of York. I built on my early experiences and conducted several pilot studies, three of which led to funding for large-scale trials designed to evaluate acupuncture’s effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Two of these trials have been completed and published with positive results: ‘Acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome’ and ‘acupuncture or counselling for depression’. A third trial is soon to be published, ‘acupuncture or Alexander Technique for chronic neck pain’. Through these and other trials, we have found clear benefits of acupuncture for chronic pain conditions, specifically low back and neck pain, headache and migraine, and osteoarthritis of the knee. We have also found that acupuncture is as good as, or better than, the other physical therapies for osteoarthritis of the knee. In addition, I have conducted neuroimaging studies, which have improved our understanding of how acupuncture might work.

Looking back, a lot of evidence has been coming through from around the world, especially in the last 10 to 15 years. The quality of the evidence on acupuncture is now as high as, or even higher than, any of the other physical therapies. Therefore, we have a very solid basis for knowing that the majority of acupuncture delivered in the UK, which is most commonly used to treat musculoskeletal conditions and headache and migraine, is evidence based.”


To book an appointment with an acupuncturist at the York Clinic, phone 01904 709688 between 9am and 6pm on weekdays, or between 9am and 2pm on Saturdays. Alternatively, email us at,or use our contact form.  We will respond to you as quickly as possible.

A longer version of Hugh’s text was originally published in the BAcC’s 20th anniversary booklet and is reproduced here with their kind permission.