Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
. 2016 Dec 14;11(12):e0168123.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0168123. eCollection 2016.

Publication Trends in Acupuncture Research: A 20-Year Bibliometric Analysis Based on PubMed

Free PMC article

Publication Trends in Acupuncture Research: A 20-Year Bibliometric Analysis Based on PubMed

Yan Ma et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article


Objective: Acupuncture has become popular and widely practiced in many countries around the world. Despite the large amount of acupuncture-related literature that has been published, broader trends in the prevalence and scope of acupuncture research remain underexplored. The current study quantitatively analyzes trends in acupuncture research publications in the past 20 years.

Methods: A bibliometric approach was used to search PubMed for all acupuncture-related research articles including clinical and animal studies. Inclusion criteria were articles published between 1995 and 2014 with sufficient information for bibliometric analyses. Rates and patterns of acupuncture publication within the 20 year observational period were estimated, and compared with broader publication rates in biomedicine. Identified eligible publications were further analyzed with respect to study type/design, clinical condition addressed, country of origin, and journal impact factor.

Results: A total of 13,320 acupuncture-related publications were identified using our search strategy and eligibility criteria. Regression analyses indicated an exponential growth in publications over the past two decades, with a mean annual growth rate of 10.7%. This compares to a mean annual growth rate of 4.5% in biomedicine. A striking trend was an observed increase in the proportion of randomized clinical trials (RCTs), from 7.4% in 1995 to 20.3% in 2014, exceeding the 4.5% proportional growth of RCTs in biomedicine. Over the 20 year period, pain was consistently the most common focus of acupuncture research (37.9% of publications). Other top rankings with respect to medical focus were arthritis, neoplasms/cancer, pregnancy or labor, mood disorders, stroke, nausea/vomiting, sleep, and paralysis/palsy. Acupuncture research was conducted in 60 countries, with the top 3 contributors being China (47.4%), United States (17.5%), and United Kingdom (8.2%). Retrieved articles were published mostly in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) journals with impact factors ranging between 0.7 and 2.8 in the top 20 journals, followed by journals specializing in neuroscience, pain, anesthesia/analgesia, internal medicine and comprehensive fields.

Conclusion: Acupuncture research has grown markedly in the past two decades, with a 2-fold higher growth rate than for biomedical research overall. Both the increases in the proportion of RCTs and the impact factor of journals support that the quality of published research has improved. While pain was a consistently dominant research focus, other topics gained more attention during this time period. These findings provide a context for analyzing strengths and gaps in the current state of acupuncture research, and for informing a comprehensive strategy for further advancing the field.

Conflict of interest statement

We have the following interests: Ming Dong is employed by IBM. There are no patents, products in development or marketed products to declare. This does not alter our adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials, as detailed online in the guide for authors.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Growth in numbers of Pub Med research publications over the 20 year period, 1995–2014.
(a) Biomedicine vs. complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) overall vs. acupuncture alone. The productivity index was calculated to compare the individual growth trend according to its baseline at year 1995, defined as (Current Year Total– 1995 Total)/1995 Total. (b) Exponential growing trends of some major types of acupuncture publications. The Y-axis is in log format.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Impact factors characteristics for journals publishing acupuncture research articles between 1994 and 2014.
(a) The number of publications in journals with and without impact factors at the time of publication. (b) The mean and stand error of impact factors of journals that acupuncture publications published each year. Note that non-JCR included non-English journals were not included in the calculation of means.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 21 articles

See all "Cited by" articles


    1. Langevin HM, Wayne PM, Macpherson H, Schnyer R, Milley RM, Napadow V, et al. Paradoxes in acupuncture research: strategies for moving forward. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM. 2011;2011:180805. Epub 2010/10/27. PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC2957136. - PMC - PubMed
    1. Highfield ES, Kaptchuk TJ, Ott MJ, Barnes L, Kemper KJ. Availability of acupuncture in the hospitals of a major academic medical center: a pilot study. Complementary therapies in medicine. 2003;11(3):177–83. Epub 2003/12/09. - PubMed
    1. Kim KH, Kim YR, Noh SH, Kang KW, Kim JK, Yang GY, et al. Use of acupuncture for pain management in an academic Korean medicine hospital: a retrospective review of electronic medical records. Acupuncture in medicine: journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society. 2013;31(2):228–34. Epub 2013/03/02. - PubMed
    1. Bauer BA. Chinese medicine and integrative medicine in the United States. Chinese journal of integrative medicine. 2015;21(8):569–70. Epub 2015/08/01. 10.1007/s11655-015-2101-x - DOI - PubMed
    1. Schnyer R, Lao L, Hammerschlag R, Wayne P, Langevin HM, Napadow V, et al. Society for Acupuncture Research: 2007 conference report: "The status and future of acupuncture research: 10 years post-NIH Consensus Conference". Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, NY). 2008;14(7):859–60. Epub 2008/09/23. PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC3155094. - PMC - PubMed

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work. IBM provided support in the form of salaries for author (Ming Dong), but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.