Acupuncture: Overview

Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world.  As part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body.

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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 2002 National Health Interview Survey, an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture during their lifetimes, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.

History; Source

Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years.  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.

Health care providers can be a resource for referral to acupuncturists, and some conventional medical practitioners – including physicians and dentists – practice acupuncture.  In addition, national acupuncture organizations may provide referrals to acupuncturists.

Most states require a license to practice acupuncture; however, education and training standards and requirements for obtaining a license to practice vary from state to state.  Although a license does not ensure quality of care, it does indicate that the practitioner meets certain standards regarding the knowledge and use of acupuncture.

Function; Why it is Recommended

The term "acupuncture" describes a family of procedures involving the 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.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sees the body as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang.  Yin represents cold, slow, or passive aspects of the person, while yang represents hot, excited, or active aspects.  A major part of the theory is that health is achieved through balancing yin and yang, and that disease is caused by an imbalance leading to a 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.

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin.

Scientists are studying the efficacy of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions.  Many ailments can be treated by Traditional Chinese Medicine.  TCM is also used in prevention of illness and to stimulate the immune system.

Commonly treated conditions:

According The World Health Organization, there are more than 100 different kinds of diseases and illnesses that can be treated very effectively by using acupuncture.


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.

Expected Outcome; Side-Effects

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.

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, or through inadequate sterilization of needles.  Improper delivery of this treatment can cause serious adverse effects, including infections and punctured organs.

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Acupuncture can help with the following:


Cocaine Addiction

Researchers say that acupuncture is a promising treatment for cocaine addiction.  A team from Yale University successfully used the alternative therapy to treat an addiction for which there are few effective treatments.  Volunteers received a form of the therapy called auricular acupuncture in which needles are inserted into specific parts of the outer ear.  Tests on urine samples showed that these volunteers were less likely to have taken cocaine during the study than others who were not offered the therapy.

Results showed that 54.8% of participants tested free of cocaine during the last week of treatment, compared to 23.5% and 9.1% in the two control groups.  Those who completed acupuncture treatment also had longer periods of sustained abstinence compared to participants in the control groups.


Alzheimer's Disease

The Chinese consider acupuncture to be an effective therapy for Alzheimer's disease.  There is solid evidence that acupuncture increases certain neurotransmitters in the brain and can actually stimulate nerve regeneration.  Increased serotonin levels probably explain why acupuncture is so effective in controlling pain and managing stress.  Acupuncture also promotes blood circulation to the brain and improves memory and concentration so there is good reason for people who have Alzheimer's, or who are at risk for developing it, to try acupuncture.


Allergic Rhinitis / Hay Fever

Treatment with acupuncture can help promote both immune system function and drainage of lymphatic fluid.


Excess Sugar Consumption

One common use of acupuncture is to control various addictions.  In the case of people who feel their sugar cravings or other food cravings are out of control and want to cut down on these foods, acupuncture can be very useful.  Professionals who deal with addictive behavior do not expect will power alone to be effective.  The first thing you can try with a sugar craving is to substitute naturally sweet foods for sugar-added foods.  Try eating dates, apples, sweet potatoes, squash or dried fruits when your sweet tooth acts up.  If this doesn't work, then consider acupuncture treatments.


Morning Sickness

Acupressure wrist bands or acupuncture may help.  You can find these bands in drug, health food, and travel stores.  If considering acupuncture, talk to your doctor and seek an acupuncturist trained to work with pregnant women.


Erectile Dysfunction (ED, Impotence)

The only placebo-controlled study of acupuncture found that the placebo also produced a large improvement in sexual function that was close to the effect of acupuncture.  Controlled trials with larger groups of men are necessary to better test the efficacy of acupuncture therapy for men suffering from erectile dysfunction. [Scand J Urol Nephrol 31: pp.271-4, 1997]



Some people have found pain relief using acupuncture.  Preliminary research shows that acupuncture may be a useful part of an osteoarthritis treatment plan.

Neck / Spine

Low Back Pain

Acupuncture can help in cases of chronic lower back pain.

Nervous System

Trigeminal Neuralgia / Facial Pain

For facial neuralgias, the evidence for acupuncture appears to be mostly anecdotal.  Some have reported pain relief for long periods of time; others have had their pain worsen.  People with classical trigeminal neuralgia (TN) seem to have very little success, whereas people with atypical TN report success slightly more often.  Anecdotal information also suggests that acupuncture has been used for TN connected with multiple sclerosis with some success, but reliable statistics cannot be found.

There are a vast number of aches and pains that are often described as neuralgic.  Many of these occur as facial pain and most of them cause severe discomfort.  It is always worthwhile to attempt to alleviate these pains by using acupuncture.  Some people respond and others do not; it is impossible to give figures for success – or even estimates – without going into great detail about the exact cause and type of neuralgia being treated.

One report evaluated the effect of meridian acupuncture treatment on TN.  Ten patients aged 26 to 67 years (mean 55.4 years) with TN who visited the outpatient Dental Anesthesiology Clinic at Tsurumi University Dental Hospital from 1985 to 1990 were studied.  The patients underwent meridian treatment by acupuncture alone or acupuncture combined with moxibustion.  The acupuncture method used was primarily basic treatment employing only needles without electrical stimulation.  Meridian acupuncture treatments were repeated from two to four times per month.

Five patients were restored to a pain-free state.  The other five patients noted a decrease in pain, but with some level of pain remaining (significant pain in one patient).  It is concluded that meridian acupuncture treatment is useful and can be one therapeutic approach in the management of TN. [Practical application of meridian acupuncture treatment for trigeminal neuralgia. Anesthesia and Pain Control in Dentistry, 1992 Spring, 1(2): pp.103-8]

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