Does Acupuncture Work Only If You Think It Will?

treatment by acupunctureAcupuncture, which involves the shallow insertion of needles into strategic points on the body, remains an ongoing source of scientific study. Some research suggests that it can be highly effective at treating pain, while other studies have shown that “real” acupuncture is no more effective than fake acupuncture. According to a study published in the The Clinical Journal of Pain, your attitude toward acupuncture could affect the outcome of acupuncture treatment.

Psychological Factors and Acupuncture Outcomes

Researchers recruited 485 participants, each with lower back pain and each receiving acupuncture treatment from a total of 83 providers. Participants answered questionnaires prior to treatment and then two weeks, three months, and six months later. The questionnaires gathered demographic information and details about the participants’ back pain. The surveys also posed questions designed to elicit information about various models of back pain.

The research team found that psychological factors played a key role in acupuncture and back pain outcomes. Participants who believed acupuncture wouldn’t work were less likely to report good results with acupuncture. Those who had a more positive view of acupuncture had better outcomes.

Attitudes about acupuncture weren’t the only factor in acupuncture outcomes, though. The team found that, overall, psychological factors accounted for two-thirds of the difference in outcomes among participants. Those who saw their back pain as controllable reported less back pain, as did those who felt they had a strong understanding of back pain. Those who experienced fewer emotions related to their back pain, as well as those who did not believe back pain would significantly impact their lives, also reported better results. The quality of the relationship between the practitioner and participant was also a major predictor of acupuncture’s success.

The study’s authors point to the value of future research exploring the benefits of mixing acupuncture with psychological interventions.


  1. Acupuncture back pain success determined by psychological factors. (2015, February 16). Retrieved from
  2. Bauer, B. A., MD. (2012, June 23). Acupuncture for back pain? Retrieved from
  3. How acupuncture can relieve pain and improve sleep, digestion, and emotional well-being. (n.d.). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • carla

    February 19th, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    I definitely think that the outcome will be better if you do believe that there will be improvement via that treatment, but I in no way think that this is the only way that it can help. I think that there are going to be some things that are going to work whether you believe that they will or not.
    Sure, it may do better if you DO have some faith in it, but I don’t ever think that this is the end all and be all.

  • ADAM

    February 19th, 2015 at 4:05 PM

    Well let’s put it like this- are you even going to be willing to believe that it works if you don’t on some level believe in its ability to work?

  • Anne

    February 20th, 2015 at 6:24 AM

    Acupuncture works on animals. They can’t influence the outcome through their beliefs…

  • mikey

    February 20th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

    Even if you are a skeptic it could be a good idea to try it even just once if you are having some sort of physical ailment and see if you can at least see some small improvement that it could have made. I would never want to rule out the validity of something until I have at least tried it once or twice.

  • Fran

    February 21st, 2015 at 5:35 AM

    Just because they are less likely to report good results does not mean that they actually did not experience good results from the treatment.

    There are always going to be people who are just less likely to say what they actually feel.

  • nina

    February 23rd, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    Of course you have to believe… what is there to work toward if you don’t?

  • Billy

    February 25th, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    I am not sure that I understand why you would even want to spend time with something if you didn’t believe in it completely?
    I mean, that to me seems like it could be the ultimate waste of time.

  • Matthew P.

    March 5th, 2015 at 2:27 AM

    There are three ways that acupuncture is known to reduce pain perception, involving blood flow, nerve signals and the relief of natural pain-killers. I don’t know anything about meridians and find it hard to relate to notions of energy flow and qui, but the scientific explanations do make sense to me. For a simple break-down of the three explanations, I suggest the following link:

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.