Acupuncture: What You Need To Know

 What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a technique in which practitioners insert fine needles into the skin to treat health problems. The needles may be manipulated manually or stimulated with small electrical currents (electroacupuncture). Acupuncture has been in use in some form for at least 2,500 years. It originated from traditional Chinese medicine but has gained popularity worldwide since the 1970s.

How widely is acupuncture used?

According to the World Health Organization, acupuncture is used in 103 of 129 countries that reported data. In the United States, data from the National Health Interview Survey showed a 50 percent increase in the number of acupuncture users between 2002 and 2012. In 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 6.4 percent of U.S. adults reported they had used acupuncture, and 1.7 percent reported they had used it in the past 12 months.

What is acupuncture used for?

National survey data indicate that in the United States, acupuncture is most commonly used for pain, such as back, joint, or neck pain.

How does acupuncture work scientifically?

How acupuncture works is not fully understood. However, there’s evidence that acupuncture may have effects on the nervous system, effects on other body tissues, and nonspecific (placebo) effects.

-Studies in animals and people, including studies that used imaging methods to see what’s happening in the brain, have shown that acupuncture may affect nervous system function.
-Acupuncture may have direct effects on the tissues where the needles are inserted. This type of effect has been seen in connective tissue. Acupuncture has nonspecific effects (effects due to incidental aspects of a treatment rather than its main mechanism of action). Nonspecific effects may be due to the patient’s belief in the treatment, the relationship between the practitioner and the patient, or other factors not directly caused by the insertion of needles. In many studies, the benefit of acupuncture has been greater when it was compared with no treatment than when it was compared with sham (simulated or fake) acupuncture procedures, such as the use of a device that pokes the skin but does not penetrate it. These findings suggest that nonspecific effects contribute to the beneficial effect of acupuncture on pain or other symptoms.
-In recent research, a nonspecific effect was demonstrated in a unique way: Patients who had experienced pain relief during a previous acupuncture session were shown a video of that session and asked to imagine the treatment happening again. This video-guided imagery technique had a significant pain-relieving effect.

What does research show about the effectiveness of acupuncture for pain?

Research has shown that acupuncture may be helpful for several pain conditions, including back or neck pain, knee pain associated with osteoarthritis, and postoperative pain. It may also help relieve joint pain associated with the use of aromatase inhibitors, which are drugs used in people with breast cancer. An analysis of data from 20 studies (6,376 participants) of people with painful conditions (back pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, or headaches) showed that the beneficial effects of acupuncture continued for a year after the end of treatment for all conditions except neck pain.

* Back or Neck Pain
* Osteoarthritis
* Headache and Migraine
* Myofascial Pain Syndrome
* Sciatica
* Postoperative Pain
* Cancer Pain
* Chronic Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome
* Fibromyalgia

What does research show about acupuncture for conditions other than pain? 

In addition to pain conditions, acupuncture has also been studied for at least 50 other health problems. There is evidence that acupuncture may help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms, stress incontinence in women, and nausea and vomiting associated with cancer treatment. It may also help relieve symptoms and improve the quality of life in people with asthma, but it has not been shown to improve lung function.

* Seasonal Allergies (Allergic Rhinitis or Hay Fever)
* Urinary Incontinence
* Treatment-Related Nausea and Vomiting in Cancer Patients
* Asthma
* Depression
* Quitting Smoking
* Infertility
* Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
* Hot Flashes Associated With Menopause

What is auricular Acupuncture good for?

Auricular acupuncture is a type of acupuncture that involves stimulating specific areas of the ear.
Research on auricular acupuncture for chronic back pain and cancer pain has had promising results.
-In a 2019 review of 15 studies (930 participants) of auricular acupuncture or auricular acupressure (a form of auricular therapy that does not involve penetration with needles), the treatment significantly reduced pain intensity, and 80 percent of the individual studies showed favorable effects on various measures related to pain.
-A 2020 review of 9 studies (783 participants) of auricular acupuncture for cancer pain showed that auricular acupuncture produced better pain relief than sham auricular acupuncture. Also, pain relief was better with a combination of auricular acupuncture and drug therapy than with drug therapy alone.