What is acupuncture?

Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

Acupuncture is one component of traditional Chinese medicine, which includes a complex system of herbal medicine, diet, exercise, and tuina, a form of massage. In traditional Chinese medicine, symptoms are attributed to alterations in the flow of qi (energy) by trauma, stress, disease, or other factors. Acupuncture stimulates certain points along non-anatomic energy meridians to attract, disperse, or unblock the flow of qi.

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Acupuncture is a medical practice that has been used to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness for more than 2,000 years and is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical practices in the world. Acupuncture involves use of fine, hair-like needles that are placed in specific anatomic points along well-defined meridians, which are pathways in the body that are related to organs, the muscular system, and the nervous system. In eastern medicine, pain or illness is thought to result from an imbalance in the flow of energy (or qi) in these meridians because of poor diet, trauma, genetic conditions, emotional issues, stress, medications, or environmental factors. Acupuncture is used to rebalance this flow of energy and help stimulate the body's ability to heal itself. It is commonly used for a variety of conditions ranging from allergies to infertility to headaches.

Acupuncture is the technique of inserting thin needles through the skin at specific points on the body to control pain and other symptoms. It is a type of complementary and alternative medicine.

This answer is based on source information from The National Cancer Institute.

Ben Kaminsky
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

With this healing art, a trained practitioner inserts one or more dry needles into the skin and underlying tissues at specific points on the body. By stimulating these acupuncture points with the needles, rhythmic discharges in nerve fibers are produced, causing the release of endorphins, the “feel good” hormones that can help you relax and feel positive. There is scientific evidence that acupuncture may positively change the way the brain interprets pain and other external sensations, which may give relief for many chronic illnesses.

If you want to try acupuncture, make sure you select a licensed acupuncturist with vast experience who uses only disposable needles. At this time, there are more than 6,500 certified and licensed practitioners in the United States, and more than 3,000 of these are conventional medical doctors. For recommendations, you can write or call the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA).

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Dr. Gerald M. Silverman
Chiropractic Medicine Specialist

Originally an ancient Chinese healing art, acupuncture has gained popularity in the United States in the last twenty years. The primary therapeutic approach involves the insertion of extremely thin needles just below the skin's surface. One theory behind the effectiveness of acupuncture is that the insertions stimulate the body to produce naturally occurring pain-relieving chemicals. Another theory sees the needles as a counterirritant that blocks the production of pain impulses. The process of needling is not painful, and most patients describe the insertion as a very light pinching sensation. Needles may be placed in and around the painful sites as well as at other points on the body that the practitioner feels will help relieve the condition. The needles usually remain in place from ten to fifteen minutes and are then removed and discarded. Some practitioners try to further stimulate the area by adding small electrical currents to the needles, or by using a cupping or suction technique to bring additional blood to the region.

A typical course of acupuncture consists of approximately ten thirty-minute treatments. Though some patients may experience slight discomfort, the treatments are considered very safe with few potential side effects. As with physical therapy and chiropractic therapy, if the treatments are going to be successful, you should notice some significant improvement within the first few sessions.

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Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese healing method that has been practiced for over 2,000 years. Acupuncturists believe energy (or chi) travels along 14 main pathways throughout the body. These pathways are called meridians. Disruption of the normal flow of chi is believed to result in disease. By inserting thin, metallic needles along specific meridian points, acupuncturists attempt to alter the flow of energy, generating greater balance and harmony within the body.

Acupuncture is generally well tolerated, although adverse effects have been reported. Studies of multiple sclerosis (MS) and acupuncture have produced variable results. Small, preliminary studies in the general population indicate that anxiety, depression, dizziness, headache, pain, bladder problems, and weakness may respond favorably to acupuncture.

Acupuncture is part of a system of medicine called traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture is a tool used to help move blood, stimulate blood flow and alleviate pain. The traditional perspective is that acupuncture removes blockages. So, when people have pain or one of their systems isn't working, acupuncturists think of that as having a blockage in energy or blood flow or fluid. The acupuncture gets in there and stimulates things so that the system starts to return to normal functioning.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

Dr. Maoshing Ni, PhD, LAc
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Acupuncture is a 5,000-year-old Chinese medical system that treats people by inserting and manipulating needles in the body at certain energy points to produce intentional physiological responses and healing. Acupuncture continues to gain recognition as an effective way to manage pain and discomfort. Even cyclists in the Tour de France have used acupuncture to maintain top form and combat painful inflammation.

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Dr. Daniel Hsu, DAOM
Alternative & Complementary Medicine Specialist

Acupuncture is a modality invented by ancient Chinese doctors. Modern acupuncture involves inserting and manipulating stainless steel acupuncture needles of varying thicknesses and lengths into the body in order to achieve a desired effect. Acupuncture needles are FDA approved, class II medical devices. Acupuncture is an effective form of therapy that can and should be used in conjunction with other available therapies to help the patient.  Although ancient acupuncture theory involved the concept of moving "Qi" or "Chi" or energy, modern acupuncture practitioners also understand that the word Qi is a metaphor for metabolic functions of the body. Acupuncture assists the body to alter those metabolic functions and to heal itself.

Dr. Howard S. Smith
Pain Medicine Specialist

Acupuncture is the insertion of one or more dry needles into the skin and underlying tissues at specific acupuncture points. By gently twisting or stimulating the needles, a measurable release of endorphins may go into the bloodstream. Energy blocks are removed, and the flow of energy along the meridians is restored. Various endorphins block incoming pain information through the release of serotonin and norepinephrine.

Another form of stimulating the acupuncture points once the needle is in place is through hooking up small wires connected to very slight electrical currents. This is known as electro‑acupuncture. Heat (moxibustion) and massage (acupressure) can be used during this process.

Acupuncture tends to be operator dependent, therefore choose a practitioner who has a lot of experience. Acupuncture has very few contraindications, and the side effects are few.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.