6 Things to Know About Acupuncture

You've probably tried plenty of treatments for your pain, but have you considered acupuncture? This ancient Asian pain treatment has gained a major foothold in modern Western medicine.

See Treating Chronic Pain with Acupuncture

Acupuncture can be used as a supplement to other medical treatments or an alternative to standard treatments for chronic pain. Read Acupuncture: What to Expect

The philosophy behind this traditional Chinese practice is our bodies have certain patterns of energy flow that need to be maintained for good health. Pain is viewed as a sign that the body as a whole is out of balance.

Practitioners vary in how closely they follow this philosophy. Physician acupuncturists may describe the treatment as stimulating nerve and muscle cells and triggering release of endorphins, the body's own painkillers.

See Acupuncture for Pain Relief


If you’d like to try acupuncture for yourself, here are 6 things to keep in mind:

  1. It usually isn't painful. It may seem that multiple needles being inserted into the skin would have to hurt, but most people find the treatment creates a tingling sensation, with little or no pain. Acupuncture needles are 20 times thinner than an injection needle
  2. Multiple conditions can be treated. While acupuncture hasn't been as thoroughly studied as other traditional treatments, studies have shown it can be helpful for easing migraine headaches, nausea, osteoarthritis, neck pain, and sciatica.
  3. Insurance may not cover it. Be sure to discuss costs with your acupuncture practitioner in advance. Insurance doesn't always cover acupuncture, though some insurers offer partial coverage for the treatments. Money in a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) can sometimes be used to pay for acupuncture.
  4. The FDA regulates acupuncture needles. Acupuncture needles are required to be sterile and nontoxic. They are approved for one-time use only.
  5. Acupuncture has a wide-ranging history. Chinese acupuncture may be best known, but acupuncture is a traditional form of healing in other parts of Asian as well, including Japan and Korea. There is some variation in the way acupuncture is practiced in different countries, so be sure to discuss your practitioner's approach before treatment begins.
  6. As acupuncture physical exam may be different than usual. Depending on the practitioner, the physical exam may focus on some areas many doctors don't inspect closely. Many practitioners take a close look at the tongue, for instance. Acupuncture appointments commonly last about an hour.

See What to Consider with Acupuncture

Before seeing an acupuncturist, it's important that a doctor has examined you to determine the cause of the pain, if possible, and rule out any serious medical problem that should be treated first. If other treatment is needed, it's best to hold off on acupuncture.

Learn more:

Understanding Chronic Pain: The Gate Control Theory

Headache Treatment and Prevention