Introduction:

Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world. As part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body. In the United States, where practitioners incorporate healing traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries, acupuncture is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). 

Key Points:

  • Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years.
  • Scientists are studying the efficacy of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions.
  • Relatively few complications have been reported from the use of acupuncture. However, acupuncture can cause potentially serious side effects if not delivered properly by a qualified practitioner.
  • Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.  

About Acupuncture:

The term "acupuncture" describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.

Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine. In TCM, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. According to TCM, health is achieved by maintaining the body in a "balanced state"; disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. Qi can be unblocked, according to TCM, by using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians. One commonly cited source describes meridians as 14 main channels "connecting the body in a weblike interconnecting matrix" of at least 2,000 acupuncture points.

Acupuncture became better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.

Acupuncture Use in the United States:

The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being "widely" practiced—by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners—for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year. 

Acupuncture Side Effects and Risks:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners, requiring that needles be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards. For example, the FDA requires that needles be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.

Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported, in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. Still, complications have resulted from inadequate sterilization of needles and from improper delivery of treatments. Practitioners should use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package for each patient and should swab treatment sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting needles. 

What to Expect from Acupuncture Visits:

During your first office visit, the practitioner may ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. The practitioner will want to obtain a complete picture of your treatment needs and behaviors that may contribute to your condition. Inform the acupuncturist about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have.

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted. Some people feel energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.

*This information taken, with permission, from the National Institute of Health website on 12/1/10.

What Conditions Acupuncture Can Be Used For:

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a complete medical system that is capable of successfully treating a wide range of conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes acupuncture's effectiveness for over 40 common disorders, such as:

 

  • Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders: toothache, earache, sinusitis, rhinitis, laryngitis
  • Circulatory Disorders: hypertension, high cholesterol, arteriosclerosis, angina pectoris
  • Gastrointestinal Disorders: food allergies, nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, colitis
  • Gynecological Disorders: menstrual irregularity, endometriosis, PMS, infertility, menopausal syndrome
  • Genitourinary Disorders: cystitis, incontinence, neurogenic bladder, prostatitis, prostatic hypertrophy
  • Respiratory Disorders: colds and flu, bronchitis, asthma, allergies, emphysema
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders: tennis elbow, frozen shoulder, TMJ, sciatica, low bak pain, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia
  • Psycho-emotional and Neurological Disorders: depression, anxiety, insomnia, headache, migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, intercostal neuralgia, post-stroke paralysis, dizziness, tinnitus
  • Addiction: smoking, drug, or compulsive habits
  • Skin Disorders
  • Overall Stress
  • Fatigue
  • The side effects of Chemotherapy and Radiation