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 with 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 or meridians. These pathways create an energy flow (Qi,
pronounced "chee") through 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 Qi, thereby improving health.
Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective for a variety of conditions.
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
What does acupuncture feel like?
Acupuncture is done using hair-thin needles. Most people report feeling minimal pain
as the needle is inserted. The needle is inserted to a point that produces a sensation
of pressure or ache. Needles may be heated during the treatment or mild electric current
may be applied to them. Some people report acupuncture makes them feel energized.
Others say they feel relaxed.
Improper placement of the needle can cause pain during treatment. Needles must be
sterilized to prevent infection. That is why it is important to seek treatment from
a qualified acupuncture practitioner. The FDA regulates acupuncture needles just as
it does other medical devices under good manufacturing practices and single-use standards
Instead of needles, other forms of stimulation are sometimes used over the acupuncture
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
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:
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:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Muscle pain and weakness
Neurogenic bladder dysfunction
Some forms of impotence
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
Choose a licensed acupuncture practitioner. Your own doctor may be a good resource
for referrals to a licensed or certified practitioner. Friends and family members
may also be good sources of referrals. 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.