Have you ever wondered how acupuncture specifically targets inflammation, and the pain that is commonly associated with it?

Acupuncture is widely used to treat pain and chronic pain. Since pain is usually associated with inflammation, it’s not much of a leap to investigate whether acupuncture can treat inflammation itself. Inflammation is the manifestation of your body’s immune defenses against invaders. Immune cells release chemicals called cytokines into the blood to protect your body from infection. Cytokines can cause inflammation and swelling in the body, which may stimulate your nerves, causing you to feel pain. As inflammation goes unresolved, pain can continue and become chronic.

Acupuncture for Acute Inflammation

Appendicitis is a painful, inflammatory condition. If that nondescript organ in your abdomen becomes infected or ruptures, intense acute pain is common. A small study of pediatric appendicitis patients evaluated pain before and after an acupuncture intervention. The researchers also measured the patients’ levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, including white blood cell count and C-reactive protein before, during, and after acupuncture. After the intervention, patients reported lower levels of pain. Their white blood cell counts also decreased, indicating reduced inflammation.

Acupuncture for Chronic Inflammation

Acupuncture appears to play an important role in diseases with chronic inflammation, like type 2 diabetes. Among patients with diabetes, biomarkers of inflammation may be elevated. Those biomarkers can include the cytokines interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), among others. Lifestyle therapies for diabetes like maintaining a healthy weight and eating an anti-inflammatory diet are very effective, but many people who are diagnosed with diabetes receive a prescription for Metformin. The drug Metformin typically results in an average of about 5% weight loss, but it can’t control weight, inflammation, or diabetes on its own. Taking an integrative approach to managing chronic inflammation present in diabetes, like adding acupuncture, may be successful.

A randomized controlled trial compared the effects of Metformin alone and Metformin in combination with acupuncture on weight loss and insulin sensitivity among overweight and obese patients with diabetes. The study found that the integrative combination therapy improved a variety of biomarkers related to diabetes and inflammation. Patients who underwent the co-therapy approach lost more weight, had better fasting blood sugar, insulin, the inflammatory markers IL-6 and TNF-α, and more. This study showed that acupuncture is an insulin sensitizer, a crucial component of diabetes management. Furthermore, acupuncture “is able to improve insulin sensitivity possibly by reducing body weight and inflammation.” Very exciting findings in integrative medicine!

Final Thoughts on Integrative Inflammation Management

In both of the above-reviewed studies, acupuncture was used in a conventional healthcare setting to manage chronic and acute pain and inflammation. Of course, the challenge is to integrate acupuncture into these therapies more widely. As evidence for the power of complementary therapies mounts, we are hopeful that patients will be likelier to turn to acupuncture alongside conventional medical interventions.  SimplaFYI has vetted integrative care practitioners offering preferred pricing to SimplaFYI Members.  Learn more here.


Firouzjaei A, Li GC, Wang N, et al. Comparative evaluation of the therapeutic effect of metformin monotherapy with metformin and acupuncture combined therapy on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients. Nutr Diabetes. 2016 May 2;6:e209.

Nager AL, Kobylecka M, Pham PK, et al. Effects of acupuncture on pain and inflammation in pediatric emergency department patients with acute appendicitis: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2015 May;21(5):269-72.

About the Author

Jenna Troup has a Masters in Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and is a devoted spin class attendee and yoga practitioner.