Why acupuncture is awful!

There is no cure for long covid. We try and dig ourselves out of this physical and mentally affliction. Some people will try anything. Acupuncture is one such thing. But it is worse than useless. Worse than a waste of you time, money and effort. It is just an awful lie and should be avoided. 


What is acupuncture?

It is sticking needles into random places in your body, because they are magic.

Does it help for long covid?

No, it is not effective for long covid, or anything else. It is a Scam!

Read on to find out why

Why do acupuncturist think it works?

They believe is qi, chi or qui, (however you want to spell it), is life force energy. Needles are stuck into selected parts of the body to apparently unblock your qi, which will in turn will give you health benefits. Illness is an imbalance of these forces.

Suffice to say that you will never find this in any biology textbook. Because this pre-scientific idea is just magical thinking or a delusion. There is no evidence what-so-ever that Qi exists. It isn’t even plausible given everything we know about physics, biology and medicine.

Hence we have two options:
Either science works. Gathering empirical observations and experiments is a reasonable way to understand to universe. 

Or…  Magic is real, and Tim Minchin has something to say about that.


But acupuncture points are a thing!

Acupunturits do have cataloges of acupoints. But different acupuncturist do not agree on where they are, or really where the needles need to go for the same presnetation or illness.

If qi worked they would surely agree on the same place, but they do not. Acupuncture points are anywhere and everywhere.The diagram (Fig.3) show the recommended acupoints from 47 studies all seeking to treat covid-19 with acupuncture, even the most common points were in less than a third of the studies. (1)

Moreover acupunture points don't really exist since there is no basis in anatomy, physiology, or neuroscience

But it is available on the NHS?

Yes but until recently so was giving people magic water (homeopathy). The fact that public money is being spent on this ineffective harmful nonsense is a crime. We are collectively being robbed. We need more real doctors and nurses in our cash strapped NHS, not wasting money on witch doctors, sorry acupuncturists (same thing really). I hope Michael Marshall, can do the same thing that he accomplished with homoeopathy and get acupuncture off the NHS.

There is one exception, electro acupuncture. Where small electrical currents are past through the needles and the tissue. This actually does something to simulate nerves and tissue, and might be beneficial for some aliments. Therefore that isn’t awful.

However the apparently ancient version of acupuncture that just uses needles without electricity and sometimes with the addition of burning moxa or moxibustion, is all nonsense and awful.


But is Ancient? Surely that means it works?

Ancient acupuncture was essentially blood letting, and was rightly ditched as ineffective and harmful

Modern acupuncture hasn’t been around for long. It was essentially re-introduced by Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s. In China the rich have access to modern western evidence based medicine but the poorer people are given ancient Chinese remedies. This suits the establishment in China as it would be too expensive to offer modern medicine to all of its one billion inhabitants. The Chinese government may well publicise treatments such as acupuncture because it is cheap and readily available without expertise and therefore providing a cheap “treatment” for the masses. (2)

The image shows some apparently ancient acupuncture needles, a fair cry from the 0.25mm ones used today. So really ancient acupuncture bears no resemblance to the modern version, as it was even worse.


But there is this this scientific paper that says it works?

Yes I know, I have read many. There are thousands of studies that show that it works. However, there are always serious flaws to these studies. They are very small sample sizes, they don’t properly blind treatments to take into account reporting bias (aka placebo effect) or they are just flat out biased. 100% of studies coming out of china says that acupuncture works. That doesn’t happen for any other form of medical treatment, for anything.

In fact it is an open secret that data is fabricated in Chain to support acupunture. There is some great science being done in china, but this sort of biased pseudoscience really harms those credible scientists working in that country. And the country as whole. This and shark fin soup. (3)

When we do bigger studies, and with better blinding the effect goes away. So lots of small crappy studies show it works. But the bigger and better the trail the smaller the effect. And the biggest and best studies show no effect. Exactly what you would expect from a treatment that at best does nothing.

Here are bunch of studies that some it doesn't work.

When evaluating the strength or reliably of scientific study there are few general pointers: How many patients where involved? Usually small pilot studies are done as an initial test, if that works out larger trails are conducted with more people. This is because people, biology, medicine and science in general is messy. Having more people in a study helps to reduce the noise. Most accoutre studies I come across have less than 50 people and very rarely more than 100. What was the blinding?
The standard in medicine is a double blinded placebo controlled trail, where neither the patient nor the doctor know if the patient is receiving the active ingredient on trial or an inert placebo pill. (Where another medication is available, placebos are unethical and not a useful comparison in these case the new and old treatments should be the options in a double blinded trial.)

Acupuncture is tough to blind, you either stick needles in you you don’t. So a good method is to do sham acupuncture where the needles are not stuck in acu points but anywhere. here is a summary of some big studies, doing just that.

638 adults, Chronic Low Back Pain
“tailoring needling sites to each patient and penetration of the skin appear to be unimportant in eliciting therapeutic benefits” (4)

1162 patients with Chronic Low Back Pain 
“Verum acupuncture was not superior to sham acupuncture” “There was essentially no difference between the results for verum and sham acupuncture.“ (5)

302 patients, Patients With Migraine 
“No difference was detected between the acupuncture and the sham acupuncture groups” (6)

270 patients, Treated for tension-type headache "acupuncture intervention investigated in this trial was not significantly more effective than minimal acupuncture."(7)

294 treated for osteoarthritis of the knee
"After 52 weeks the difference between the acupuncture and minimal acupuncture groups was no longer significant “ (8)


What about the open heart surgery?

One the stories that has become a great selling point for acupuncture is the idea that open heart surgery was performed, using only acupuncture instead of general anaesthetic. Made famous in a BBC documentary.

This was miss-leading the programme script did say the patient was "sedated by drugs and her chest numbed” however people seem to have mostly missed this point.

Science writer Simon Singh discovered that the patient had been given a combination of three very powerful sedatives (midazolam, droperidol, fentanyl) and large volumes of local aesthetic injected into the chest. The acupuncture needles were purely cosmetic. (9)

What’s the harm?

Sticking needles into your body is directly doing harm. Bleeding, brushing and soreness are very common side effects. In some rare cases needles break and case damage to internal organs!

If needles are not properly sterilised it can lead to infection. Just google acupuncture and look at the images, notice how many practitioners are wearing gloves. So yes infection is likely. 

A few people have been killed because of this treatment, however from the millions of people that are treated we might consider that it is relatively safe. If you really want to have acupuncture you’re probably better off doing it yourself, since it doesn’t matter where the needles go. Also this way you can make sure its sterile, because a “woo doctor” that believes in qi and may not have enough, if any, respect for germ theory.  


If I feel better, that mean it is OK, right?

Go and get acupuncture, experience the illusion that is worked. Then go back when you have something serious wrong with you, reject modern medicine and then you could end up seriously ill or even dead, or probably just worse off. When going straight to science based medicine would have saved you. That is the harm, not just to your wallet, or miss appropriated funds in the NHS. Actual suffering and death.

You may think am being overly dramatic, and that is true but acupuncture has very real risk the chance of these extreme negative side effects is very low. Any medical intervention is a risk vs benefit analysis. Since acupuncture has no benefit beyond an illusion a lie. It doesn’t work for anything, it cannot work for anything. Stay safe and keep the annoying pricks well away from your body.

The thing that really annoys about acupuncture and the rest of the Supplements, Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (SCAMS) industry is the lack of science, logic and critical thinking. I really hope that as a species can ditch this magical thinking and concentrate on using stuff that really works.

What's the harm

Where it all started, 

One of the main reason I started this “science based long covid” project, was because of the amount of times someone recommended acupuncture in long covid support groups. Imagine spending most of you life doing and teaching science. Using logic and critical thinking to better understand the world.The someone says

“That is all irrelevant, I like having magic needles stuck in me. You should do it as well. Forgot all that science, logic and critical thinking, do this woo-woo.”

That is what it is like for me when people recommend acupuncture. I have spent a lot of time researching acupuncture and then being told that is irrelevant because I haven’t tried it? That is why acupuncture is awful, it makes people think that sort of argument is ok.


(1)  Mengjuan Ren, et al. The role of acupuncture and moxibustion in the treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation of patients with COVID-19: A scoping review,
Integrative Medicine Research, Volume 11, Issue 4, 2022, 100886, ISSN 2213-4220, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.imr.2022.100886.
(2) Li Z. Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician. New York: Random House, 1996
(3) https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2014.5346.abstract?journalCode=acm
(4) Cherkin DC, et al. A randomized trial comparing acupuncture, simulated acupuncture, and usual care for chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2009 May 11;169(9):858-66. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2009.65. PMID: 19433697; PMCID: PMC2832641.
(5) Haake M, et al. German Acupuncture Trials (GERAC) for chronic low back pain: randomized, multicenter, blinded, parallel-group trial with 3 groups. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Sep 24;167(17):1892-8. doi: 10.1001/archinte.167.17.1892. Erratum in: Arch Intern Med. 2007 Oct 22;167(19):2072. PMID: 17893311.
(6) Linde K, et al. Acupuncture for patients with migraine: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2005 May 4;293(17):2118-25. doi: 10.1001/jama.293.17.2118. PMID: 15870415.
(7) Melchart D, et al. Acupuncture in patients with tension-type headache: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2005 Aug 13;331(7513):376-82. doi: 10.1136/bmj.38512.405440.8F. Epub 2005 Jul 29. PMID: 16055451; PMCID: PMC1184247.
(8)  Witt C, et al. Acupuncture in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomised trial. Lancet. 2005;366:136–43
(9) https://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/mar/25/science.broadcasting