WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?

Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world. As part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupuncture aims to restore and maintain health through the stimulation of specific points on the body with hair-thin sterile 1-time use only stainless steel needles. In the United States, where practitioners incorporate healing traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries, acupuncture is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Key Points
  • Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years.
  • Scientists are studying the efficacy of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions.
  • Relatively few complications have been reported from the use of acupuncture. 

Click here for a Visual Guide to Acupuncture on WedMD

About Acupuncture

The term "acupuncture" describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.

All Photos On This Page Taken by Jayme Crowder
Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine. In TCM, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang. Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. According to TCM, health is achieved by maintaining the body in a "balanced state"; disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi (vital energy) along pathways known as meridians. Qi can be unblocked, according to TCM, by using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians. One commonly cited source describes meridians as 14 main channels "connecting the body in a weblike interconnecting matrix" of at least 2,000 acupuncture points.

Acupuncture became better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.

Acupuncture Use in the United States

The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being "widely" practiced—by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners—for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. According to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey, which included a comprehensive survey of CAM use by Americans, an estimated 3.1 million U.S. adults and 150,000 children had used acupuncture in the previous year. Between the 2002 and 2007 NHIS, acupuncture use among adults increased by three-tenths of 1 % (approximately 1 million people).

Acupuncture Side Effects and Risks

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners, requiring that needles be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards. For example, the FDA requires that needles be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.

Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA, in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. Practitioners should swab sites with alcohol before inserting needles.

Status of Acupuncture Research

There have been many studies on acupuncture's potential health benefits for a wide range of conditions. Summarizing earlier research, the 1997 NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture found that, overall, results were hard to interpret because of problems with the size and design of the studies.

In the years since the Consensus Statement was issued, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has funded extensive research to advance scientific understanding of acupuncture. Some recent NCCAM-supported studies have looked at:

  • Whether acupuncture works for specific health conditions such as chronic low-back pain, headache, and osteoarthritis of the knee
  • How acupuncture might work, such as what happens in the brain during acupuncture 
  • Ways to better identify and understand the potential neurological properties of meridians and acupuncture points
  • Methods and instruments for improving the quality of acupuncture research
Techniques such as neuroimaging indicate acupuncture can quiet areas of the brain that cause us to perceive pain, while stimulating those areas that allow us to rest and regenerate damaged tissues.  Doppler ultrasound has shown increased blood flow in areas focused on with acupuncture, and thermal imaging shows that inflammation is resolved a minute after needles are inserted into specific acupuncture points.

What To Expect and Benefits from Acupuncture Visits

During your first office visit, the practitioner may ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. The practitioner will want to obtain a complete picture of your needs and behaviors that may contribute to your condition. Inform the acupuncturist about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have.

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted on average 1/8". When needles are inserted, you may feel nothing, a vague numbness, heaviness, tingling, or dull ache.  Some people feel energized by acupuncture, while others feel relaxed. Everyone responds to acupuncture differently, so your feedback of your experience is helpful for tweaking future sessions.

Pulses on both arms may be palpated before some acupuncture sessions to help determine the best acupuncture points to use for your situation.  There are 12 pulse positions on each wrist that correspond to different acupuncture meridians.  They may not always be taken before every session if enough information is gathered in other ways to formulate the best acupuncture points for that session.

When acupuncture points are used in combination, a multitude of disorders or conditions can be addressed.

Sessions may take place over a period of several weeks or more depending on your health goals. Similar acupuncture points may be used from session to session, and oftentimes points vary from session to session as progress is made.


Each individual responds to acupuncture differently- some feel more tired afterwards, some feel more energized afterwards.  Some notice effects immediately, some notice effects over time.  This is a great article on some of the possible physical effects of acupuncture from someone who had acupuncture for 3 months.  Click here to read the full article.

How Acupuncture Works


Scientists have observed the following clinical effects of acupuncture:

Augmentation of Immunity Theory – Increased Immune Function & Resistance to Disease by Stimulating Immune Cells

Endorphin Theory – Reduction of Pain by Increasing Release of Endorphins

Neurotransmitter Theory – Inflammation Reduction & Altering Brain Chemistry by Changing the Release of Neurotransmitters and Neurohormones.

Circulatory Theory – Increases Blood Circulation & Smooth Muscle Relaxation

Gate Control Theory – Increases Pain Tolerance

Motor Gate Theory – Hastens Motor Recovery from Paralysis

Bioelectric Theory – Stimulate Cells of Tissue Growth & Repair

Nervous System Theories – Regulates Central Nervous System, Spinal & Peripheral Nerve Stimulation, Resulting in Specific Effects such as Regulating one's Blood Pressure, Blood Flow, and Body Temperature.

Health For Life Clinic: Natural Medicine & Acupuncture 
112 N. Cornell Ave., Lancaster, PA 17603
(717) 669-1050

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