What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is the practice of puncturing the skin with very thin needles at certain
points in the body. The goal is to relieve symptoms of certain health conditions.
The acupuncture points are thought to have electrical properties, which affect chemical
neurotransmitters in the body.
Acupuncture is an ancient practice in 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.
Studies have shown that acupuncture is effective for certain 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, including:
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 medications (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 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. Approximately
30 states have established training standards for certification in acupuncture, although
not all states require acupuncturists to obtain 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 beginning 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 begin treatment whether acupuncture
is covered by your insurance.