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I don’t hear this phrase often, as patients who return to our clinic do so because they have benefited from acupuncture. However, acupuncture may not be the treatment of choice for some concerns. 

No modality of medicine can treat everyone or everything, so there will always be a contingency of nonresponders. Specifically with acupuncture, this becomes a publicity problem when a lack of expected results gets equated with an inefficacy of the entire modality. Let me explain.

If you describe a complaint to a Western-trained physician, you will receive a diagnosis and treatment plan, a pill or a procedure being the two most common interventions. With a medication, the benefits are weighed against any side effects over the course of treatment. If that particular drug appears ineffective, perhaps a different drug is considered. With a procedure, success is judged in hindsight and may be repeated (such as a cortisone injection) or followed with other supportive modalities (such as physical therapy after back surgery).

In the event that the pill or procedure is ineffective, the patient is left with a perspective and narrative expressed in statements such as, “That drug didn’t work” or “The surgery didn’t help.” In some instances, the patient may consult with a different specialist for a second opinion, try a range of different medications, or undergo repeated surgeries to the same problem area.

In any of these scenarios, you will generally never hear the statements, “Drugs don’t work” or “Surgery doesn’t work.” Patients may claim a particular medication was ineffective, but they don’t throw out the entire field of pharmacology. The same goes for a procedure. Maybe it was unhelpful or the results inconclusive. Or perhaps the patient didn’t like the attending physician. Whatever the case, you don’t tend to hear a blanket disavowing of medical science. 


Yet with acupuncture, a patient may claim that acupuncture doesn’t work after not receiving benefit from a few treatments, or even after one treatment! Mind you, that patient is not stating that a particular style of acupuncture doesn’t work or that a particular practitioner wasn’t the right fit for them. Rather, the entire field of acupuncture can get thrown under the bus in a hasty assessment from limited experience.

This is a curious perspective given the emerging research base in support of acupuncture and the thousands of years of anecdotal evidence showing unequivocal benefit.

What patients may not realize is that there are many different styles of acupuncture, each representing a distinct approach to healing. Furthermore, there is considerable nuance in how each modality is practiced, given the individual practitioner’s education and experience. 

Acupuncture is both an art and a science. Where one practitioner may excel treating one type of condition, another may struggle to achieve clinical results. Analogous to getting a second opinion, trying a series of treatments from a different acupuncturist can provide the perspective check that will hopefully result in the statement, “I found an acupuncturist who works for me.”  

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Author: Brandon LaGreca, LAc

Brandon is the founder and director of East Troy Acupuncture, an integrative medical clinic serving southeast Wisconsin, where he specializes in whole-food nutrition, ancestral health, and environmental medicine.

Link to bio page.