Acupuncture used to be a treatment that was only practiced in Eastern Asia, but over the years it's become available in the United States and many other countries. Acupuncture is used to treat conditions such as: pain, nausea and vomiting, stomach problems, headaches, menstrual cramps, and more. This guide was created to help you learn more about acupuncture and what to expect if you decide to have an acupuncture treatment.
Acupuncture is a type of East Asian Medicine that some people have found helpful to relieve certain kinds of pain and treat certain medical conditions. The name of the professional who does the acupuncture treatments is an "acupuncturist". Most people who practice East Asian Medicine believe that energy (or Qi) flows through channels in the body called meridians. They believe that certain medical conditions result from a blockage or imbalance in the natural flow of these energy channels, and that acupuncture can help in unblocking Qi and restoring balance to the body.
Most states require that acupuncturists have three to four years of special training in acupuncture studies. After graduating from school, they must pass a national exam to become licensed.
During an acupuncture treatment, fine needles (as fine as a piece of hair) are inserted into "acupuncture points," which are thought to stimulate the body’s nervous system to release certain chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain which in turn release other chemicals and hormones in the body that may help to improve pain and other medical complaints.
Although the way that acupuncture works is not yet fully understood by scientists, recent medical studies have shown that acupuncture is safe, and, when combined with other treatments, can be helpful for some patients with certain conditions.
Your first visit with an acupuncturist is similar to the first visit with your health care provider. Your acupuncturist will ask you questions about the reason that brought you in for acupuncture treatments. If you are having pain, he/she will probably ask specific questions such as: Where is the pain? What does it feel like? and How often do you have it? Your acupuncturist will also ask you about other conditions you might have, if you have had any operations and if you are taking any medications or herbs.
|Two of the ways acupuncturists try to understand what is in balance and what is not, is by looking at the color, shape, and coating on your tongue, and by checking your pulse in 6 different positions. This helps the acupuncturist decide what areas of your body need help and which acupuncture points might be stimulated.|
You will probably be asked to roll up your pants or shirt. You may be given a sheet or blanket to cover the parts of your body that do not need to be exposed. Next, you will likely be asked to lie down on a soft table so the acupuncturist can place the very fine needles into the acupuncture points on certain areas of your body, such as: your belly, legs, hands, etc. Music may be played in the background to help you relax.
Acupuncture needles are very small and thin. If you look at a piece of your hair, that’s just about the thickness of a needle. Here’s a picture of an acupuncture needle next to a ball-point pen — you can see how thin it is. Only the tip of the acupuncture needle is inserted into the skin. This video clip shows an acupuncturist placing needles into a patient's belly.
This picture shows the placement of needles in the lower legs.
Acupuncture is different from western medicine since acupuncture points represent different places along the "energy channel." So, it's possible that your acupuncturist may decide to place needles in different areas of your body. It may seem odd to have needles placed in your legs if you're having belly pain. This video clip shows the acupuncturist placing needles in the patient's lower legs.
Some people become worried when they hear the word, “needle”. This is understandable but the needles that are used for acupuncture don’t look anything like the needles that are used for shots or blood tests. Acupuncture needles are very, very thin and small.
Some people who receive acupuncture feel a little pressure when the needle is inserted, some will feel mild pain, and others will feel nothing at all. Once the needles are in the acupuncture points you shouldn't feel any discomfort at all. Many people fall asleep during their treatments! This video clip shows the acupuncturist removing the needles.
No, the needles used by a licensed acupuncturist are sterile. There is, however, a very low risk of bruising where the needles have been inserted, but the risk is much lower than if you were to have a regular type of injection or shot.
Pros of acupuncture are:
This can vary. The reason you are having treatments, including whether your problem is acute or chronic, and whether you have more than one condition, will help determine how many treatments might help. Generally acute problems get better after only a couple of treatments, but chronic conditions may require 1-2 visits per week for many months. Your acupuncturist will work with you to decide how many treatments would be best for you.
Yes. It is important to take any medicine that your health care provider prescribes for you. It is also very important to tell both your health care provider and acupuncturist what medicines you are taking so they can help you get the most out of the treatments.
Some insurance companies do cover acupuncture treatments while others do not. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture is working with insurance companies to try to have acupuncture treatments covered by all insurance companies. For now it is best to check with your insurance company to find out if all or part of your acupuncture treatment will be covered.
Acupuncture is safe when performed by a licensed acupuncturist. It may be effective in treating pain or other medical conditions especially when combined with traditional Western medical treatments. Some people who receive acupuncture treatments do not have relief from their symptoms If you are considering acupuncture, talk with your health care provider to find out if acupuncture may be helpful.
Acupuncture in patients with dysmenorrhea: a randomized study on clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in usual care. Witt CM, Reinhold T, Brinkhaus B, Roll S, Jena S, Willich SN.
Pragmatic randomized trial evaluating the clinical and economic effectiveness of acupuncture for chronic low back pain. Witt CM, Jena S, Selim D, Brinkhaus B, Reinhold T, Wruck K, Liecker B, Linde K, Wegscheider K, Willich SN.
Effectiveness of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee: A randomized, controlled trial. Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AM, Hochberg MC.
Acupuncture for chronic headache in primary care: large, pragmatic, randomised trial. Vickers AJ, Rees RW, Zollman CE, McCarney R, Smith CM, Ellis N, Fisher P, Van Haselen R.
Looking for other health info? Check our A-to-Z Index.
©1998-2013 Center for Young Women's Health, Boston Children's Hospital. All rights reserved.