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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is part of a traditional Chinese medicine that is gaining popularity in Western medicine. When administered properly, acupuncture can be an effective source of relief for some people with back pain and other ailments.

AcupunctureAcupuncture has been part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The idea is based on yin and yang, or opposite forces. Disruption of balance between yin and yang blocks the flow of qi, or vital energy, and causes disease. Acupuncture seeks to allow qi energy to flow through needles placed into specific body sites.1

Thousands of acupuncturists in the US administer the treatment of millions of patients each year. Some insurance plans cover acupuncture treatment for specified conditions, while other plans do not. Each state has its own licensure requirements for acupuncture practitioners.

Uses for Acupuncture

Acupuncture may relieve pain from a variety of conditions, including lung and other cancers, pre-menstrual cramps, osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

It is widely used for treating low-back pain. Acupuncture may reduce emesis.

The perception of pain occurs when the brain receives signals from the body and responds with feelings of pain. Practitioners believe this process triggers the release of naturally occurring painkilling molecules called peptides and keeps the body’s normal flow of energy unblocked.2 Acupuncture may increase activity in brain regions called the hypothalamus and nucleus accumbens, while reducing signals to the anterior cingulate cortex and amygdala. These changes may result in less pain.

Potential Risks

Acupuncture is relatively safe when performed properly. Internal organ damage can occur if needles penetrate deeply into the body.3 Bleeding and bruising may happen where needles pierce the skin. Pregnant women risk premature delivery with acupuncture. Acupuncture techniques involving electrodes can interfere with the function of pacemakers in individuals with heart conditions. To reduce the risk of infections from acupuncture, practitioners may only use needles that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

1 National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “Acupuncture: An Introduction,” 2011. 2 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Low Back Pain Fact Sheet,” December 28, 2011. 3 Mayo Clinic, “Acupuncture: Risks,” 2011. The above is provided as general information only. It is not intended to diagnose or recommend treatment of any illness, disease or condition. You should consult a qualified medical professional if you have questions or need more information.