Acupuncture is a way of encouraging the body to promote natural healing.
Acupuncture is a form of treatment that involves inserting very fine needles through a person’s skin at specific points on the body, to various depths.
Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and is one of the oldest healing practices in the world.
Acupuncture involves stimulating sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles of the body. This results in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. Stimulating these points can help to relieve specific symptoms and restore balance to your health.
It’s not clear exactly how it may work, but acupuncture has been shown to be an effective treatment for:* Chronic pain* Headaches
It can help alleviate pain, and improve sleep and mood.
Acupuncture is used to treat pain and a variety of other conditions. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of headaches and migraines. It can also help people get better sleep. It is generally considered safe, although there are some risks associated with it.
It’s estimated that about 3 million adults in the United States have ever used acupuncture, and about 830,000 visit acupuncturists each year. About 50% of those who receive acupuncture do so for pain relief or control. Other common reasons include: Stress reduction; general well-being; symptoms related to cancer (including nausea from chemotherapy); musculoskeletal problems such as arthritis or chronic back pain; digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); anxiety; depression; insomnia; and infertility treatments
Thin needles are inserted in the skin at specific points of the body.
During an acupuncture session, a practitioner inserts thin needles into your skin at specific points on your body. Sometimes, electrical stimulation is used along with the needles. It’s not entirely clear how or why acupuncture works. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that illness and pain occur when something blocks or unbalances your qi (pronounced “chee”). Acupuncture removes these blocks to restore the flow of qi throughout the body and stimulate healing.
There are several types of acupuncture:
- Traditional Chinese medicine
- Japanese meridian therapy
- Korean hand therapy
The needles are believed to unblock the flow of qi (chi).
Before we discuss the acupuncture process, it’s important to understand how this traditional Chinese medicine therapy works. Acupuncture is based on the belief that there is a vital energy called qi and that your health is maintained by the uninterrupted flow of qi through channels in our body called meridians. Illness often happens when the flow of qi gets blocked, so unblocking that flow can restore health. The way this works according to acupuncture theory is as follows: thin needles get inserted into specific points located along meridians where flow has been blocked. Inserting these needles helps remove blockages, restoring your body’s natural balance and improving your health in a variety of ways.
Qi is believed to be a vital energy that flows through the body.
The word qi, pronounced “chee,” is the Chinese word for what’s known as life energy. It’s believed that your qi is a vital energy that flows through your body, and this flow of qi follows specific pathways called meridians. In traditional Chinese medicine, good health is believed to depend on the free flow of this energy throughout your body. Illness is believed to result from an imbalance or blockage in the flow of qi along these meridians. Acupuncture aims to correct imbalances in qi by stimulating points along these meridians, thus restoring balance and preventing disease.
A number of studies have reported that acupuncture reduces pain.
Acupuncture has been used to treat a wide range of painful conditions including low back pain, headaches and migraines, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. A number of studies have reported that acupuncture reduces pain for the above conditions when combined with standard care.
While acupuncture is not a miracle treatment for chronic pain (nor is any other treatment), it can be a useful tool for reducing pain and improving function as part of a multi-pronged treatment program.
Some research suggests acupuncture may reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis and back pain.
- You might try acupuncture if you have osteoarthritis of the knee. In a study published in Arthritis Care & Research, 400 adults with osteoarthritis of the knee received either acupuncture over five weeks, or standard care to manage their pain. The patients who received acupuncture experienced less pain after eight weeks than those who did not.
- It’s important to use trained practitioners of acupuncture when trying it out for knee pain caused by osteoarthritis. Acupuncture is a therapy that requires training and education to perform safely and effectively. As a result, you should make sure that any practitioner you see is licensed as an acupuncturist by your state medical board (in most states). Just as importantly, any acupuncturist you see should be credentialed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). This means that they have graduated from one of the many English-language programs in the country accredited by NCCAOM, which will ensure they have undergone proper training in this therapy.
The World Health Organization supports the use of acupuncture for some conditions.
Acupuncture is sometimes supported by the World Health Organization for a number of conditions. Specifically, it can help with nausea and vomiting, post-operative pain, headaches, migraines, dental pain, lower back pain, neck pain, and knee pain. It might also be useful for osteoarthritis. The WHO also recommends acupuncture in conjunction with traditional stroke rehabilitation methods.
Although there are a few small studies suggesting that some people may benefit from acupuncture treatment for insomnia and drug dependency withdrawal symptoms respectively, there isn’t enough evidence to support these claims. Acupuncture is not considered effective for treating diabetes or cancer.
Acupuncture is safe when it’s done by an experienced, properly trained practitioner using sterile needles.
- You should not have acupuncture if you are on blood-thinning medication — in some cases this increases the risk of bleeding and bruising. This applies to warfarin, heparin and aspirin, among others.
- Acupuncture is usually safe if you have a pacemaker or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
- Acupuncture should not be used on people who have a bleeding disorder or who take blood-thinning medication, as well as those with severe heart problems.
- There are also specific acupuncture points that should be avoided during pregnancy. These points can stimulate contractions, so it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid all needles in the abdomen after 26 weeks of pregnancy.
- Children under five years old should not be given acupuncture because they may find it difficult to remain still during treatment.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires acupuncture needles to be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards.
When you receive acupuncture, the acupuncturist will use needles that are sterile and disposable. You might experience some minor bleeding where the needle was inserted. You might also bruise at the site after treatment. These side effects are usually mild and temporary.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires acupuncture needles to be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards:
- Acupuncture needles must be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.
- Needles must be manufactured using materials that do not cause adverse tissue reaction (for example, metal allergies).
- The FDA evaluates and regulates needles to ensure they are sterile, nontoxic, and properly labeled as medical devices intended for single use by qualified practitioners only on humans.
Acupuncture can help relieve pain associated with certain health issues but it’s not right for everyone or every condition.
- Acupuncture is considered a safe and effective treatment for pain management but it’s not right for everyone or every condition. If you’re thinking about acupuncture, first ask your doctor about what other options there are to treat your condition.
- Not all acupuncturists are licensed to practice, so make sure you check for certifications from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
- The cost of acupuncture can vary by location and by each practitioner’s experience. In general, most insurance plans do not cover acupuncture treatments. Check with your insurance provider before scheduling an appointment to see if it will be covered.