Acupuncture, or the process of inserting needles into the body in specific locations or "meridians" to treat various ailments, has always had a somewhat dubious reputation in the U.S. Skeptics believe that if it works at all, it is only via a placebo effect. But a new study has found that for sufferers of chronic pain, acupuncture provides real relief. And even if it's only in their heads, the results are strong enough to support continued treatment.

The study, published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine analyzed data from over two dozen clinical trials dating back to the 1990s. All combined, the trials evaluated more than 18,000 people with chronic pain stemming from arthritis, headaches, or back and neck problems. In each study, pain relief from acupuncture was compared with traditional treatment methods such as medication and exercises, and fake acupuncture — a phony version of the treatment in which needles are inserted unsystematically.

The study found that the effectiveness rates for real acupuncture was 50 percent — in other words, it was found relieve a patient's pain from say 60 to 30 on a 100-point scale. The effectiveness rate for sham acupuncture was 43 percent and that for traditional treatment was 30 percent. The conclusion? The pain relief derived from acupuncture is real, or real enough to warrant further treatment.

The results "provide the most robust evidence to date that acupuncture is a reasonable referral option," wrote the study's authors, researchers with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and several universities in England and Germany.

Have you ever sought acupuncture treatment for chronic pain? If so, did it work for you?

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Study finds pain relief from acupuncture is real
A review of more than 18,000 cases finds the effectiveness rate of acupuncture high enough to warrant further treatment.