Wellness Tip: Consider Acupuncture

Article pulled from March 2014 ChrioHealth newsletter, published by the American Chiropractic Association


According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 8.2 million Americans have been to an acupuncturist, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults used acupuncture in the previous year. Since the use of acupuncture has spread widely in the U.S. in the past 20 years, researchers are studying the benefits of acupuncture for many conditions, including low-back pain, headaches and osteoarthritis of the knee.

Some doctors of chiropractic offer acupuncture in their offices, while others work collaboratively with local acupuncturists. The following talking points will help answer your questions about acupuncture.

What is acupuncture?

  • Acupuncture is a non-drug, non-invasive therapy that may produce a variety of benefits—from pain management to helping with nausea associated with chemotherapy.
  • One of the oldest healing arts, acupuncture originated in China and other Asian countries thousands of years ago.
  • Acupuncture may be useful as an independent treatment for some conditions, but it can also be used as a complement to conventional medical treatment; for example, to control pain and nausea after surgery.

What is the philosophy of acupuncture?

  • Acupuncture practitioners believe that all illness is caused from interference with the flow of energy, also called qi, and imbalance of two opposing and complementary forces within the body: yin, the cold and passive aspect, and yang, the hot, active and excited aspect.
  • To restore the balance between yin and yang and unblock qi, acupuncture stimulates specific points of the body through several techniques, including insertion of hair-thin metal needles through the skin.
  • In Chinese medicine, qi is believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in the body, which are accessible through more than 350 acupuncture points.
  • Western medicine explains the effect of acupuncture through stimulating nerves, muscles and connective tissue, which increases the body’s natural activity to regulate pain and increase blood flow.

How can I find an acupuncturist to work with?

  • Ask your doctor of chiropractic or another health care provider for a referral. Some doctors of chiropractic practice acupuncture, too.
  • Ask people you trust for recommendations.
  • Check online referral listings of national acupuncture organizations.
  • Check the provider’s credentials and be sure he or she has an active license. Most states require non-physician acupuncturists to pass an exam through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
  • Interview the provider. Ask what the treatment involves, how likely it is to be effective for your condition and how much it will cost.
  • Check with your insurance company to find out if the treatment is covered by your insurance.

What should I expect during my visit?

  • While acupuncture providers may have different styles, a typical visit—which usually lasts about 30 minutes—includes an exam and assessment of your condition, insertion of needles and advice on home care.
  • Before the needles are placed, you will lie down on a comfortable surface face down, face up or on your side, depending on where the needles will be inserted. Usually the procedure isn’t painful; however, you may feel a brief, sharp sensation when the needle is inserted and when it reaches the correct depth. Sometimes the needles are gently moved or stimulated with electricity or heat.
  • Each treatment may require the insertion of as many as 12 needles, which stay in place for five to 20 minutes.
  • Acupuncture treatment is experienced differently by different people. Some report feeling energized by treatment; others feel relaxed. Most report feeling no or minimal pain from the insertion of the needles.

What are the benefits and risks of acupuncture?

  • Like other therapies, acupuncture has benefits and risks. On the benefit side, acupuncture has few side effects, helps control certain types of pain and can be a useful complement to other therapies.
  • If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners, acupuncture may not be for you.
  • Soreness and pain during treatment can result from improper needle placement, a defect in the needle or the movement of the patient. Some experience bleeding or bruising at the needle sites.
  • If acupuncture is not provided by a properly qualified practitioner, however, potentially serious side effects can occur. Some complications have been reported from inadequately sterilized needles. Inappropriately delivered treatment can result in infections and injured organs. However, these risks are low when acupuncture is performed by a competent, certified practitioner.