Timothy C. Hain, MD. • Page last modified: July 19, 2020
Acupuncture has been studied for treatment of tinnitus, and traditional chinese medicine has been used to treat it as early as 18th century BC (Yap et al, 2009). Acupuncture is commonly used in treatment of many conditions, but for the majority of the indications no proof is available in the sense of medical studies of acceptable scientific level (Hakimi, 2009).
It seems somewhat reasonable that sensory stimulation of the head or neck could modulate tinnitus, as there is good evidence that tinnitus can often be modulated by somatosensory input (Levine et al, 2007). For example, many persons with tinnitus find that it increases after clenching their jaw. Many persons with TMJ dysfunction indicate that they also have tinnitus. It seems reasonable that acupuncture, which is generally accepted to be helpful in reducing pain, might temporarily affect tinnitus that is modulated by muscle tension.
The author of this page interviewed several reputable practitioners of acupuncture from China. Their comment was that acupuncture works about "20% of the time". This to us seems similar to placebo.
The literature reviewed below shows that in spite of many studies, scientific proof that acupuncture is effective for tinnitus is still lacking as of 2016.
Controlled studies have generally shown no significant effect of acupuncture, by itself, on idiopathic tinnitus. Studies that break out response to tinnitus into subcategories such as tinnitus that modulates with muscle tension, tinnitus due to TMJ disturbances, tinnitus of different frequencies and other etiologies than simply idiopathic, are entirely lacking. It seems likely to us that as is the case in other physical treatment disciplines, results could depend strongly on the individual delivering the treatment. Even if acupuncture is a placebo, placebo relief is still relief.