The origins of acupuncture can be traced back at least 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest health care systems in the world. Today, acupuncture is an effective, natural and increasingly popular form of health care that is being used by people from a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds. Acupuncture takes a holistic approach to understanding normal function and disease processes and focuses as much on the prevention of illness as on the treatment.

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into specific sites (acupuncture points) along the body’s meridians to clear energy blockages and encourage the normal flow of Qi through the patient. The practitioner may also stimulate the acu puncture points using other methods, including moxibustion, cupping, laser therapy, electro-stimulation and massage, in order for the qi flow to return to normal.

How acupuncture is performed

An initial acu puncture session usually lasts 20-40 minutes and involves an assessment of your general health, medical history and a physical examination, followed by insertion of the acupuncture needles.

Courses of treatment often involve up to 10 separate sessions, but this can vary.

What does it feel like?

You may feel slight pressure when a needle goes in. Most people find that it doesn’t hurt. The area may tingle, feel numb, itch, or be a little sore. Providers believe that this is a sign that the energy flow, or chi, has been accessed.

After the needle is placed, your provider may roll the needle slightly back and forth. He or she may use heat or electrical current on the needle.

What do we know about the effectiveness of acupuncture?

Acu puncture can help manage certain pain conditions, but evidence about its value for other health issues is uncertain.

What do we know about the safety of acupuncture?

Acupuncture is generally considered safe when performed by an experienced, well-trained practitioner using sterile needles. Improperly performed acupuncture can cause serious side effects.

What is acupuncture used for?

People use acu puncture to relieve pain and treat certain health conditions. You can use it by itself or as part of a treatment program. Studies have found promising results for the use of acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy, chemotherapy, and postsurgery pain. Acu puncture also may be useful for:

  • Stroke rehabilitationStroke rehabilitation, which involves relearning skills that a person lost because of brain damage from a stroke.
  • Headache.
  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Tennis elbowTennis elbow.
  • FibromyalgiaFibromyalgia, or widespread pain and tenderness of muscle and soft tissue.
  • Myofascial painMyofascial pain, caused by spasm in the muscles.
  • Low back pain. For people who have low back pain, acupuncture may help decrease pain and increase activity. Some studies show that acupuncture reduced pain and disability related to back problems more than usual treatment.1, 2
  • Carpal tunnel syndromeCarpal tunnel syndrome, or pressure on a nerve in the wrist that results in tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain of the fingers and hand.
  • AsthmaAsthma, or inflammation in the tubes that carry air to the lungs, resulting in periodic episodes of difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing.
  • Drug addictionDrug addiction. Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of withdrawal after a person stops taking a drug he or she is addicted to. It may also help prevent a relapse. More studies are needed to learn about the benefits of acupuncture.
  • Dental pain.
  • Labor pain.