Having multiple needles inserted at specific points on your body sounds like it would be painful—ouch!  Prior to experiencing acupuncture firsthand, it is not uncommon to feel apprehensive because most of us associate needles with the numerous vaccines we endured as children.  Surprisingly, acupuncture is not painful at all, although sometimes people do experience minor discomfort depending on the type of treatment they’re receiving.  The needles used in acupuncture are extremely thin an have rounded tips unlike syringes.  One of the most common applications of acupuncture is actually pain relief, and there is a great deal of scientific literature to support this usage.

There are over 2,000 acupuncture points along the meridians of the body, each of which can be used to stimulate healthy flow of the body’s Qi (vital energy) and preserve balance between the body’s two opposing forces: Yin and Yang.  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this equilibrium is crucial to maintaining one’s health.  Acupuncture has been practiced in China as part of TCM for 5,000 years, but only recently has it become a separate CAM modality in its own right as well.  In the U.S. today, a wide variety of practitioners (including M.D.s, D.O.s, N.D.s and of course TCM practitioners or O.M.D.s) can become licensed to perform acupuncture if they receive proper training.

Since James Reston’s 1971 New York Times article, “Now, About My Operation in Peking” in which he details his appendectomy in a Chinese hospital and the subsequent acupuncture and herbal remedies he received for pain relief, acupuncture has been the subject of a great deal of research in the United States.  The NIH (National Institutes of Health) has conducted a number of studies on acupuncture for chronic low-back pain, headache, and osteoarthritis of the knee (among other conditions), as well as those designed to learn how acupuncture might work physiologically.

According to a 2007 survey conducted by the NIH, roughly 3.1 million adults and 150,000 children in the U.S. had used acupuncture in the previous year.  When performed by a qualified and properly credentialed practitioner, acupuncture is associated with very few adverse events.  For this reason, it is important to ask your practitioner about their educational background and credentials prior to commencing treatment.  As always, be sure to disclose all CAM usage to your primary care provider.  Since acupuncture is so well-known within the medical profession today, asking your primary care provider for a referral would likely be helpful as well in choosing an acupuncturist.  Additionally, some health insurance companies cover acupuncture- check the specifics of your plan to see if it’s covered for you!


DISCLAIMER:  This article is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice.  You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.



1.  National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture

2.  Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph Acupuncture *Please note that this resource is available only by subscription.

3.  Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Fourth Edition by Marc S. Micozzi for more detailed information.  Published by Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, Missouri 2011.

4.  Integrative Medicine Second Edition by David Rakel for more detailed information on usage for specific conditions.  Copyright 2007, 2003 by Elsevier Inc.  Published by Saunders Elsevier, Philadelphia, PA 2007.


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