Acupuncture

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the practice of penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles which are then activated through gentle and specific movements of the practitioner's hands or through electrical stimulation. 

Acupuncture is part of the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe the human body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points connected by pathways, called meridians. Meridians create an energy flow (Qi, pronounced "chee") throughout the body that is responsible for overall health. Disruption of the energy flow can cause disease. By applying acupuncture to certain points, it is thought to improve the flow of blocked or stagnantQi, thereby re-establishing optimal movement of energy and improving health.

Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective for a variety of conditions which are discussed below

Acupuncture is not for everyone. If you choose to see an acupuncturist, discuss it with your doctor first and find a practitioner who is licensed as having proper training and credentials.

What does acupuncture feel like?

Acupuncture is done using hair-thin needles. Most people report feeling minimal pain as the needle is placed into specific points. Needles are only inserted to a point that produces a sensation of pressure or ache and may be heated during the treatment. Mild electric current may also be applied to the needles. Some people report acupuncture makes them feel energized. Others say they feel relaxed.

Needles must be sterilized to prevent infection while improper placement of the needle can cause pain during treatment. It is therefore important to seek treatment from an experienced, well-trained acupuncture practitioner who uses sterilized needles. The FDA regulates acupuncture needles just as it does other medical devices under good manufacturing practices and single-use standards of sterility.

Other forms of stimulation, not just needles, are sometimes used over the acupuncture points including:

  • Heat (moxibustion)

  • Pressure (acupressure)

  • Friction

  • Suction (cupping)

  • Impulses of electromagnetic energy

How does acupuncture affect the body?

Acupuncture points are believed to stimulate the central nervous system. This, in turn, releases chemicals into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These biochemical changes may stimulate the body's natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) studies have shown that acupuncture is an effective treatment alone or in combination with conventional therapies to treat the following:

  • Nausea caused by surgical anesthesia and cancer chemotherapy

  • Dental pain after surgery

  • Addiction

  • Headaches

  • Menstrual cramps

  • Tennis elbow

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Myofascial pain

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Low back pain

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Asthma

It may also help with stroke rehabilitation.

What conditions may benefit from acupuncture?

Many Americans seek acupuncture treatment for relief of chronic pain, such as arthritis or low back pain. Acupuncture, however, has expanded uses in other parts of the world. Before considering acupuncture, talk to your doctor. Conditions that may benefit from acupuncture include the following:

Digestive

Emotional

GastritisIrritable bowel syndromeHepatitisHemorrhoids

AnxietyDepressionInsomniaNervousnessNeurosis

Eye-Ear-Throat

Gynecological

RhinitisSinusitisSore throat

Menstrual painInfertility

Musculoskeletal

Neurological

ArthritisBack painMuscle crampingMuscle pain and weaknessNeck painSciatica

HeadachesMigrainesNeurogenic bladder dysfunctionParkinson's diseasePostoperative painStroke

Respiratory

Miscellaneous

Allergic rhinitisSinusitisBronchitis

Irritable bladderProstatitisMale infertilitySome forms of impotenceAddiction

Considerations when choosing acupuncture

Because scientific studies have not fully explained how acupuncture works within the framework of Western medicine, acupuncture remains a source of controversy. It is important to take precautions when deciding about acupuncture.

  • Discuss acupuncture with your doctor first. Acupuncture is not for everyone. Discuss all the treatments and medicines (dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter) you are taking. If you have a pacemaker, are at risk for infection, have chronic skin problems, are pregnant, or have breast or other implants, be sure to tell your doctor. Acupuncture may be risky to your health if you fail to mention these matters.

  • Do not rely on a diagnosis of disease by an acupuncture practitioner. If you have received a diagnosis from a doctor, you may wish to ask him or her whether acupuncture might help.

  • Choose a licensed acupuncture practitioner. Your own doctor and friends or family membersmay be a good resource for referrals to a licensed or certified practitioner. You do not have to be a doctor to practice acupuncture or to become a certified acupuncturist. About 30 states have established training standards for certification in acupuncture, although not all states require acupuncturists to get a license to practice. Although not all certified acupuncturists are doctors, the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture can provide a referral list of doctors who practice acupuncture.

  • Consider costs and insurance coverage. Before starting treatment, ask the acupuncturist about the number of treatments needed and how much the treatments will cost. Some insurers cover the cost of acupuncture while others do not. It is important to know before you start treatment whether acupuncture is covered by your insurance.