There has been a lot of research into acupuncture for chronic pain, but many trials have been of poor quality. Some trials are quite small or the methodology may be of a low standard. The best trials are often ones with the most patients in them, as high numbers of participants mean that its easier to see whether the results are due to chance, or whether there is a real clinical effect.
Many of the best researchers in the field of acupuncture have come together to pool the results of the best trials to see if acupuncture is effective across a range of chronic pain conditions. Using careful analysis, The international Acupuncture Trialists Collaboration identified 29 trials, which were of good quality. This included nearly 18,000 patients, more then enough to demonstrate a statistically significant effect. Their results clearly show that acupuncture has a better effect than no treatment, or sham acupuncture. This result was consistent for a range of painful conditions such as back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache. Their conclusion; acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain.
This summary is based on a paper by Andrew J. Vickers, Angel M. Cronin, Alexandra C. Maschino, George Lewith, Hugh MacPherson, Norbert Victor, Karen J. Sherman, Nadine E. Foster, Claudia M. Witt, Klaus Linde on behalf of the Acupuncture Trialists’ Collaboration