What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a type of treatment that is rooted in ancient Chinese medical practice. It aims to relieve a patient’s pain by inserting small needles into specific areas of the body, known as acupuncture points. These points may be at the site of pain, as well as at distant sites that may be contributing to a patient’s pain. The proper needle placement combination has the potential to decrease pain and inflammation, stiffness, and muscle spasm in some individuals. The effectiveness of acupuncture is attributed to the release of endorphins, which are pain-relieving hormones, into the body. Patients who are suffering from pain that is non-responsive to conventional treatments may experience relief from acupuncture treatment.

History of acupuncture

Acupuncture has been used as a treatment modality for over 3,000 years in China and throughout Asia. While this therapy does indeed have an ancient history, it has become both accepted and prescribed as an effective treatment for many painful conditions.

Both the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization has acknowledged acupuncture as an effective treatment modality for conditions involving pain and nausea.

The principle behind this therapy involves a type of energy called qi. The qi flows along acupuncture channels or meridians of the body. There are 12 meridians on the body that are divided into two groups—yin and yang, representing masculine and feminine. There are three yang meridians of the upper extremities, three yang meridians of the lower extremities, three yin meridians of the lower extremities, and three yin meridians of the upper extremities. There are eight additional meridians that are not designated yin or yang. Block ages and imbalances in the flow of qi result in disease and symptoms. The flow of qi can be corrected by inserting fine needles at specified points along the meridians.

Acupuncture was first in the spotlight of the U.S. public in 1971. A New York Times reporter named James Reston was covering Henry Kissinger on a trip to China in 1971 and fell ill to acute appendicitis. His appendix was removed in a modern Chinese hospital using general anesthesia. However for his post-surgical pain he was offered and accepted this therapy to help alleviate his symptoms. He wrote an article in the NY Times July 25th 1971 detailing his experience.

Types Of Acupuncture

There are various types of acupuncture that are being utilized currently, including traditional, electroacupuncture, laser, and finger or manual therapies.

Traditional acupuncture involves inserting needles into strategic places on the body in order to stimulate increased circulation and the release of endorphins. Electroacupuncture utilizes the same principles as traditional; however, it involves using either electrically charged needles, or electrical pads that deliver a small amount of electric current to the areas of the body where the needles or pads are positioned. It is believed that electroacupuncture enhances the effects of traditional therapy.

Laser acupuncture uses laser beams to stimulate muscle tissues, which accelerates the recovery process by increasing circulation. Furthermore, laser acupuncture increases the strength of damaged tissues in some individuals. Finger or manual forms of therapy replaces the needles, electrical pads, or laser beams with specific finger placements.

Are there any risks?

The risks associated with this treatment are relatively low if the technique is performed by a certified and experienced professional. Potential side effects include minor soreness or bruising, and bleeding at the site of needle insertion. When electroacupuncture is used, there is the potential for minor skin irritation.  Serious side effects include organ injury if the needles are placed incorrectly or if they are inserted too deeply. Additionally, infection can occur if sterile needles are not used for the procedure.

When laser acupuncture is being performed, it is vital that an experienced professional uses laser beams that are 5 to 550mW, 600-700 nm for red beams, and 800-1000 nm for near infrared laser beams, as anything higher can result in a burn to the skin. Moreover, patients who have certain medical conditions including bleeding disorders, a pacemaker, or those who are pregnant should not receive this type of treatment.

Although there are various risks associated with this treatment, they are minimized if the procedure is performed by an experienced professional. Further, when it is performed correctly, it can result in pain relief benefits that are superior to other commonly used treatments.

Conditions Related To Acupuncture

This treatment can be used in such a diffuse manner and has the ability to produce beneficial results. Due to these facts, it’s becoming a popular treatment choice for individuals suffering from a variety of conditions.

Various conditions can be successfully treated with acupuncture, including:

Acupuncture For Pain Management | PainDoctor.com

Benefits of acupuncture

Fibromyalgia is a debilitating musculoskeletal condition that often results in chronic fatigue, decreased physical activity, stiffness, sleep problems, and a decrease in overall well-being. Electroacupuncture and manual therapies have both been utilized to treat fibromyalgia; however, electroacupuncture helps to relieve pain and stiffness, and also helps to improve sleep patterns. Additionally, traditional acupuncture has been successful in treating symptoms related to fibromyalgia in some patients.

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that involves motor and sensory deficits as the result of nerve damage. This condition is often difficult to treat as determining the exact cause is often tricky. This treatment is quite effective for the treatment of peripheral neuropathy as it leads to improved nerve conduction, which results in an improvement of sensory and motor symptoms associated with this condition.

Arthritis is a degenerative type of disorder that can result in significant pain and a reduced ability to perform normal activities. Traditional acupuncture is often used to relieve pain associated with arthritis. It produces the same results as when it is used to treat fibromyalgia.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is experienced by many individuals and is characterized by numbness, tingling, and pain in the wrists and hands. In some patients, it also results in motor deficits. Acupuncture treatment, particularly electroacupuncture, has been shown to significantly reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate carpal tunnel syndrome.

When this treatment is used to treat pain in various areas of the body, including the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, and legs, it is believed to result in an increase in the circulation of fluid and oxygen in damaged muscle tissue, which results in pain relief, and an increase in muscle strength while at the same time enhancing the recovery process.

Headaches are often the result of stress and tension, but may also develop due to persistent pain that is associated with various conditions. Acupuncture can help to minimize headache pain and can also help to reduce the occurrence of headaches.

Additional research on benefits

New research is also showing that adenosine plays a large role in the pain relieving benefits of acupuncture. Adenosine, a molecule that influences inflammation and sleep, also acts as an endogenous opiate. Using mice with injured paws, the scientists first demonstrated that adenosine was released during acupuncture. In mice that didn’t have adenosine receptors there was no relief from pain. A group of mice were given an approved leukemia drug that lengthens the amount of time that adenosine sticks around.

With the drug, the animals experienced relief for three times as long: three hours instead of an hour.

A 2006 Mayo Clinic study for fibromyalgia found that acupuncture significantly improved symptoms of this condition. Symptomatic improvement was not restricted to pain relief and was most significant for fatigue and anxiety. This type of treatment is also common for those suffering from sports injuries.

Gate Control Theory is another theory behind the effectiveness of acupuncture. This theorizes that acupuncture activates sensory receptors, which will block pain receptors and thus “gate out” painful stimuli.


Acupuncture is becoming an increasingly popular choice for pain control. The NIH Consensus Conference on acupuncture in 1997 concluded: “There is sufficient evidence of acupuncture’s value to expand its use into conventional medicine and encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value.”

If you are experiencing chronic pain, you may want to consider speaking to your doctor about adding acupuncture to your pain management treatment program. When this treatment is performed correctly, it has the ability to reduce muscle spasm and stiffness, and also has the ability to strengthen damaged tissues during the recovery process. There are various forms of acupuncture available including traditional, electroacupuncture, laser, and finger or manual therapies. These techniques have been shown to be effective at relieving pain by increasing circulation at the insertion site, as well as helping to release pain-relieving hormones.

Various conditions can be successfully treated by acupuncture including fibromyalgia, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, and pain in various regions of the body. In order to minimize risks of acupuncture, patients should ensure that the procedure is performed by a certified and experienced professional.  When performed correctly, it has the ability to produce results that are superior to those that are seen with other, commonly used treatments.

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