Acupuncture is used for a wide variety of ailments, such as:
persistent painful conditions including low back pain and pain related to arthritis
post operative pain
adverse reactions to chemotherapy and radiation therapy
hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms
It can be used as a stand alone treatment, or alongside more traditional medical treatments like prescription medication or surgery.
However, there is insufficient scientific evidence proving whether or not acupuncture works for these or other conditions.
The current consensus statement on acupuncture from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that overall, studies on acupuncture have been small and poorly designed according to Western standards. This makes their results difficult to interpret.
The NIH is funding studies on acupuncture to rectify the problem. So far, one NIH-sponsored trial has found that acupuncture decreases pain and disability associated with osteoarthritis of the knee, when combined with standard medical treatments.
Another trial, this one on people with back chronic low back pain, found that patients who got acupuncture along with standard medical care did fare better than those who only got standard care. However, people who were given sham acupuncture (the needles did not actually enter the skin) did as well as those given real acupuncture. Therefore, the results are hard to interpret.