World Health Organization (WHO) Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014-2023


WHO Official Position and Research on Evidence Based Practices in Acupuncture

The WHO official position on acupuncture, published in 2003, has been retired in favor of a Traditional Medicine Strategy from 2014-2023 published here:  WHO Traditional Medicine Strategy: 2014-2023

The World Health Organization has been a leader in evaluating modern research on acupuncture an traditional medicine and promotes acupuncture and traditional medicine as an accessible, cost effective medical treatment for many conditions.

Links on some of the Evidence Based Practices in acupuncture from the evidence based acupuncture.org page:

Evidence Based Acupuncture Website

Acupuncture: An Overview of Scientific Evidence

Acupuncture as a Therapeutic Treatment for Anxiety

Acupuncture for Pain

Pediatric Acupuncture

Acupuncture as a Therapeutic Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis

Acupuncture as a Therapeutic Treatment of Cancer Pain

Research on Acupuncture Safety

1998 WHO Report on Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

The following list of conditions treated with acupuncture is taken from a 1998 World Health Organization (WHO) report published 20 years ago analyzing controlled trials conducted before that time. In this report the WHO described the following limitations of their review:

“Since the methodology of clinical research on acupuncture is still under debate, it is very difficult to evaluate acupuncture practice by any generally accepted measure. This review is limited to controlled clinical trials that were published up to 1998 (and early 1999 for some journals), in the hope that the conclusions will prove more acceptable. Such trials have only been performed for a limited number of diseases or disorders. This should not be taken to mean, however, that acupuncture treatment of diseases or disorders not mentioned here is excluded.”

“The diseases or disorders for which acupuncture therapy has been tested in controlled clinical trials reported in the recent literature can be classified into four categories as shown below.

1. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture has been proved— through controlled trials—to be an effective treatment:

  • Adverse reactions to radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy
  • Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
  • Biliary colic
  • Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
  • Dysentery, acute bacillary
  • Dysmenorrhoea, primary
  • Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
  • Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
  • Headache
  • Hypertension, essential
  • Hypotension, primary
  • Induction of labour
  • Knee pain
  • Leukopenia
  • Low back pain
  • Malposition of fetus, correction of
  • Morning sickness
  • Nausea and vomiting Neck pain
  • Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
  • Periarthritis of shoulder
  • Postoperative pain
  • Renal colic
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Sprain
  • Stroke
  • Tennis elbow

2. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which the therapeutic effect of acupuncture has been shown but for which further proof is needed:

  • Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)
  • Acne vulgaris
  • Alcohol dependence and detoxification
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Bronchial asthma
  • Cancer pain
  • Cardiac neurosis
  • Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation
  • Cholelithiasis
  • Competition stress syndrome
  • Craniocerebral injury, closed
  • Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent
  • Earache
  • Epidemic haemorrhagic fever
  • Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)
  • Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection
  • Female infertility
  • Facial spasm
  • Female urethral syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
  • Gastrokinetic disturbance
  • Gouty arthritis
  • Hepatitis B virus carrier status
  • Herpes zoster (human (alpha) herpesvirus 3)
  • Hyperlipaemia
  • Hypo-ovarianism
  • Insomnia
  • Labour pain
  • Lactation, deficiency
  • Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic
  • Ménière disease
  • Neuralgia, post-herpetic
  • Neurodermatitis
  • Obesity
  • Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Pain due to endoscopic examination
  • Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein–Leventhal syndrome)
  • Postextubation in children
  • Postoperative convalescence
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Prostatitis, chronic
  • Pruritus
  • Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome
  • Raynaud syndrome, primary
  • Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • Retention of urine, traumatic
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sialism, drug-induced
  • Sjögren syndrome
  • Sore throat (including tonsillitis)
  • Spine pain, acute
  • Stiff neck
  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
  • Tietze syndrome
  • Tobacco dependence
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Ulcerative colitis, chronic
  • Urolithiasis
  • Vascular dementia
  • Whooping cough (pertussis)

3. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which there are only individual controlled trials reporting some therapeutic effects, but for which acupuncture is worth trying because treatment by conventional and other therapies is difficult:

  • Chloasma
  • Choroidopathy, central serous
  • Colour blindness
  • Deafness
  • Hypophrenia
  • Irritable colon syndrome
  • Neuropathic bladder in spinal cord injury Pulmonary heart disease, chronic
  • Small airway obstruction

4. Diseases, symptoms or conditions for which acupuncture may be tried provided the practitioner has special modern medical knowledge and adequate monitoring equipment:

  • Breathlessness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Coma
  • Convulsions in infants
  • Coronary heart disease (angina pectoris)
  • Diarrhoea in infants and young children Encephalitis, viral, in children, late stage
  • Paralysis, progressive bulbar and pseudobulbar”

(Source: Xiaorui Zhang, 1998,  Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials, Traditional Medicine (TRM) Department of Essential Drugs and Medicines Policy (EDM) World Health Organization)