OBJECTIVE: The objective of this NIH Consensus Statement is to inform the biomedical research and clinical practice communities of the results of the NIH Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture. The statement provides state-of-the-art information regarding the appropriate use of acupuncture, and presents the conclusions and recommendations of the consensus panel regarding these issues. In addition, the statement identifies those areas of study that deserve further investigation. Upon completion, the reader should possess a clear working clinical knowledge of the state-of-the-art regarding this topic. The target audience of physicians for this statement includes, but is not limited to, family practitioners, medical acupuncturists, psychiatrists, and specialists in pain medicine. PARTICIPANTS: A non-Federal, nonadvocate, 12-member panel representing the fields of acupuncture, pain, psychology, psychiatry, physical medicine and rehabilitation, drug abuse, family practice, internal medicine, health policy, epidemiology, statistics, physiology, biophysics, and the public. In addition, 25 experts from these same fields presented data to the panel and a conference audience of 1,200. EVIDENCE: The literature was searched through Medline, and an extensive bibliography of references was provided to the panel and the conference audience. Experts prepared abstracts with relevant citations from the literature. Scientific evidence was given precedence over clinical anecdotal experience. CONSENSUS PROCESS: The panel, answering predefined questions, developed their conclusions based on the scientific evidence presented in open forum and the scientific literature. The panel composed a draft statement, which was read in its entirety and circulated to the experts and the audience for comment. Thereafter, the panel resolved conflicting recommendations and released a revised statement at the end of the conference. The panel finalized the revisions within a few weeks after the conference. The draft statement was made available on the World Wide Web immediately following its release at the conference and was updated with the panel's final revisions. CONCLUSIONS: Acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention is widely practiced in the United States. While there have been many studies of its potential usefulness, many of these studies provide equivocal results because of design, sample size, and other factors. The issue is further complicated by inherent difficulties in the use of appropriate controls, such as placebos and sham acupuncture groups. However, promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma, in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.