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 and credentials.
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 of sterility.
Instead of needles, other forms of stimulation are sometimes used over the acupuncture points, including:
Impulses of electromagnetic energy
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
Low back pain
Carpal tunnel syndrome
It may also help with stroke rehabilitation.
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:
GastritisIrritable bowel syndromeHepatitisHemorrhoids
ArthritisBack painMuscle crampingMuscle pain and weaknessNeck painSciatica
HeadachesMigrainesNeurogenic bladder dysfunctionParkinson's diseasePostoperative painStroke
Irritable bladderProstatitisMale infertilitySome forms of impotenceAddiction
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 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.