Can anyone actually tell me how acupuncture works?

There are numerous websites with little actual explanation, but assert that it works. For example the below article:


However I have failed to find any article about how acupuncture works, or the mechanism at play. Can anyone tell me how it works?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Biology.SE. Do you have any evidence to support that it actually works? If not, your question is off-topic because "primarily-opinion based". If you are looking for evidence f whether it works or not, then you should go on Skeptics.SE. You will find here on skeptics a lit of questions tagged acunpuncture that will probably already give you some answers. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Oct 26, 2015 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Remi.b scholar.google.hu/… There are many placebo controlled articles, it is better than placebo. (Btw. it is interesting, how you do placebo acupuncture. :D) $\endgroup$
    – inf3rno
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ Dear questioner, let me help: scholar.google.hu/… $\endgroup$
    – inf3rno
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ @inf3rno sham needles! $\endgroup$
    – TanMath
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 2:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @inf3rno that wasn't my video.. I was just saying sham needles can be used as control $\endgroup$
    – TanMath
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 18:40

3 Answers 3


It works via the placebo effect which according to recent research, is not the sort of trivial effect as it was thought to be.

  • $\begingroup$ What about the research in the articles described in my answer? $\endgroup$
    – TanMath
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 4:17
  • $\begingroup$ @TanMath What has transpired in recent years is that sham acupuncture and real acupuncture work just as well, the best results are obtained when patients have long discussions with the doctor about the complaints before undergoing treatment, whether it is a sham or real treatment. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ but there is scientific evidence that it is a physical phenomenon... $\endgroup$
    – TanMath
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 5:13
  • $\begingroup$ @TanMath The relevance of such induced phenomena must be established. E.g. if I treat patients suffering from vertigo by letting them be subject to a roller coaster treatment, then obviously I'm subjecting them to nontrivial physical effects that influence balance. However, if I'm not doing any better than alternative treatments where they are not subject to such influences, then I can't say that the roller coaster had any effect on the vertigo. My theory may well be very plausible, there may exist experimentally confirmed mechanisms that support my theory. But it's then all irrelevant. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @inf3rno says that your video wasn't about whether acupuncture works... Maybe another link about placebo and acupuncture is better? $\endgroup$
    – TanMath
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 23:57

What is acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine by which needles are pierced through the skin and helps to treat diseases.

Science behind acupuncture

So far, the research on acupuncture has shown that acupuncture can help to suppress pain but probably will not treat diseases.

Really, it all has to do with connective tissue. Connective tissue is tissue that connects, supports, binds, or separates other tissues or organs. In the connective tissue, there are cells known fibroblasts. According to an article in The Scientist (http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/35301/title/The-Science-of-Stretch/):

the cells that are responsible for synthesizing all the proteins that make up the extracellular matrix. These cells reside within the matrix they create, responding to mechanical stimulation by regulating the amount of collagen and other matrix proteins produced, and by secreting matrix-degrading enzymes in response to chronic changes in tissue forces.

Their research also showed that:

the fibroblasts initiated a specific Rho-dependent cytoskeletal reorganization that was required for the tissue to fully relax. Rho is an intracellular signaling molecule known to play a role in cell motility and the remodeling of cell-surface proteins that connect the fibroblast to its surrounding matrix.

They also mentioned that the fibroblasts secrete ATP, which is converted to adenosine which is an analgesic. This leads me to a second article in in Discover Magazine (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/05/30/a-biological-basis-for-acupuncture-or-more-evidence-for-a-placebo-effect/#.VjAmFyPn_qD). In this article, they mention about a paper that described the importance of adenosine.


The research showed that the A1 receptor for adenosine is important for acupuncture to work. But they mention in the Discover article that there is nothing special about acupuncture. They say:

o answer that, clinical trials have used sophisticated methods, including “sham needles”, where the needle’s point retracts back into the shaft like the blade of a movie knife. It never breaks the skin, but patients can’t tell the difference from a real, penetrating needle. Last year, one such trial (which was widely misreported) found that acupuncture does help to relieve chronic back pain and outperformed “usual care”. However, it didn’t matter whether the needles actually pierce the skin, because sham needles were just as effective. Nor did it matter where the needles were placed, contrary to what acupuncturists would have us believe.

It is hard to also have a control but it seems the best may be the sham needles. However, much of this research is debatrd.

I hope I have answered your question. Please ask anything more in the comments.


Every major, large, blinded, well-controlled study shows that it is no better than placebo.

Here's one article with references: https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/acupuncture-doesnt-work/


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