The Who, What, Where, When and Sometimes, Why.

Acupuncture

What is it?

Acupuncture is an ancient method of treatment that began in China as a part of traditional Chinese medicine. It involves stimulating points on the body called meridians. These points are stimulated by piercing with fine needles or applying electric currents.

Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain-related conditions, but its effects are inconsistent. It is also used for addictions, several mental disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or cerebral palsy, and many other conditions. But there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses.

Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The Effectiveness ratings for Acupuncture are as follows:

Possibly Effective for…

  • Back pain. Research shows that acupuncture can reduce back pain in some patients compared to no treatment when used for up to 3 months. At least 8-10 sessions seem to be needed for pain relief. But some research shows no benefit of acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture. But it’s possible that the benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Using acupuncture along with anti-nausea medications seems to reduce vomiting right after chemotherapy better than taking anti-nausea medications alone.
  • Fibromyalgia. While still preliminary, most research show that acupuncture reduces fatigue, anxiety, and pain in people with fibromyalgia.
  • Insomnia. Research shows that acupuncture using needles can improve sleep quality in people with insomnia. In some studies acupuncture has been used alone. In other studies it was used along with sleep medication and sleep hygiene practices. Acupuncture using electric current doesn’t improve symptoms of insomnia.
  • Knee pain. Research shows that acupuncture using needles, electric current, or laser can reduce pain and improve knee function in people with chronic knee pain. But it’s possible that the benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Labor pain. Pregnant women receiving acupuncture during labor seem to experience less pain.
  • Migraine. Most research shows that acupuncture helps prevent and treat migraine headache. For some people, acupuncture might work as well as the medicine metoprolol. But it’s possible that the benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Neck pain. Research shows that acupuncture using needles but not lasers can decrease neck pain. Using acupuncture along with pain-relieving medicine seems to decrease pain better than just taking medicine. It is unclear if acupuncture works best when used at acupoints or at points of pain.
  • Osteoarthritis. There is evidence that electrical or needle acupuncture can reduce pain and improve mobility in people with knee or hip osteoarthritis for up to 12 weeks. But it’s possible that the benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Nausea and vomiting after surgery. Acupuncture using needles, acupressure, and acupuncture using electric current help reduce nausea and vomiting in adults after surgery. These methods may work as well as conventional medicines. It is unclear if acupuncture helps for children with nausea and vomiting after surgery.
  • Tennis elbow. Some research shows that acupuncture may relieve tennis elbow pain, short-term.
  • Tension headache. Most research shows that acupuncture using needles or electrical current helps alleviate tension headache. But other treatments such as physical therapy might work better.

Possibly Ineffective for…

  • Asthma. Most research shows that acupuncture does not improve asthma symptoms or lung function.
  • Hearing loss. Acupuncture does not seem to improve hearing in people with hearing loss.
  • Pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting. Results from early research show that acupuncture does not reduce nausea and vomiting in most pregnant women. But it might help women who have very severe nausea and vomiting.
  • Smoking cessation. Acupuncture does not seem to help people quit smoking.
  • Preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs). Acupuncture doesn’t seem to prevent UTIs in women with a history of this condition.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for…

  • Alcoholism. Early research shows that acupuncture may decrease drinking, tremor, depression, and craving in alcoholics.
  • Allergic rhinitis (hayfever). Acupuncture might improve allergy symptoms in people who experience allergies year-round. But it’s not clear if acupuncture helps people with seasonal allergies.
  • Chest pain (angina pectoris). Some early research shows that acupuncture prevents chest pain and increase the ability to exercise in people with chest pain caused by exercise. But conflicting results exist.
  • Anxiety. Early research shows that adding acupuncture to certain behavior therapy helps improve symptoms of anxiety.
  • A type of seizure disorder (Bell’s palsy). Early research shows that acupuncture can help reduce symptoms of Bell’s palsy.
  • Breast cancer-related hot flashes. Early research shows that acupuncture using needles or electric current can help decrease hot flashes in women treated for breast cancer. But it’s possible that the benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Relieving breast engorgement (hard, painful breasts) in breast-feeding women, when applied to the skin of the breasts. Early research suggests that acupuncture does not improve pain and swelling of breasts in women during breastfeeding.
  • Incorrect position of the baby at birth (breech presentation). Early research suggests that using acupuncture with moxibustion may reduce the risk of breech presentations.
  • Cancer-related pain. Early research shows that acupuncture can reduce pain in cancer patients.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. Some research shows that acupuncture does not improve symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. But early research suggests that using laser acupuncture along with a form of nerve stimulation might reduce pain in some people with this condition.
  • Cerebral palsy. Early research shows that using acupuncture alone or with rehabilitation therapy can improve symptoms in children with cerebral palsy.
  • Age-related spinal damage (cervical spondylosis). Early research shows that acupuncture reduces pain in people with cervical spondylosis. But higher quality studies are needed to confirm.
  • Reducing side effects of chemotherapy. People undergoing chemotherapy often experience a decrease in white blood cell counts. This can increase the risk of infection. Early research shows that acupuncture can increase white blood cell counts in people undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Early research shows that acupuncture can improve shortness of breath and the ability to walk in people with this lung condition.
  • Cocaine dependence. Early research shows that ear acupuncture doesn’t reduce cocaine use in cocaine addicts.
  • Depression. There is some evidence that acupuncture can reduce symptoms of depression in people with mild-to-moderate depression. Some research even shows that acupuncture works about as well as medications for depression. But these results have been criticized because of the small number of people involved in the study and because of other study design problems.
  • Dry eye syndrome. Results regarding the effects of acupuncture on dry eye are conflicting. Some research shows it helps when used with artificial tears. But other research shows no benefit.
  • Dry mouth. Early research shows that acupuncture may improve dry mouth. But it’s possible that the benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Early research shows that acupuncture using needles or electrical current can help decrease pain during painful periods.
  • Heart burn (dyspepsia). Early research suggests that acupuncture can decrease symptoms of dyspepsia.
  • Pain with medical procedures such as colonoscopy. Acupuncture might help relieve pain during medical procedures such as a colonoscopy. But results are conflicting.
  • Bed-wetting. Early research shows that acupuncture might help reduce bed-wetting in children when used alone or with the medicine desmopressin.
  • Seizures. Some early research shows that acupuncture can decrease seizures in children with epilepsy.
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED). Some early research shows that acupuncture might help improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction. But conflicting results exist.
  • Exercise performance. Early research suggests that acupuncture does not improve exercise performance.
  • Slow digestion (gastroparesis). Early research shows that acupuncture may improve symptoms of slow digestion in people with diabetes.
  • Paralysis of one side (hemiplegia). Early research suggests that acupuncture may improve movements in some people who are paralyzed on one side of the body due to stroke.
  • HIV. Early research suggests that acupuncture may improve symptoms and life quality in people with HIV. But acupuncture does not appear reduce nerve pain in people with this condition.
  • High blood pressure. Some research shows that acupuncture modestly reduces blood pressure. But it’s possible that the benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Infertility. Some research shows that acupuncture improves pregnancy rates in people having trouble getting pregnant. But other research shows no benefit.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Early research shows that acupuncture improves symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome compared to no treatment. But it doesn’t work better than taking probiotics. Also, it’s possible that any benefit is due to “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Menopausal symptoms. The effects of acupuncture on symptoms of menopause are conflicting. Some early research shows that acupuncture reduces the severity of hot flashes and might reduce the frequency of hot flashes. But other research shows it doesn’t work.
  • Muscular pain disorder (myofascial pain). Some forms of acupuncture seem to reduce pain in people with this condition. But not all forms of acupuncture seem to work. Trigger point acupuncture doesn’t seem to have much benefit.
  • Inflammation of muscle (myofascitis). Early research suggests that acupuncture alone and with moxibustion can help relieve pain and swelling of back muscles.
  • A skin condition caused by nervous scratching or rubbing (neurodermatitis). Early research suggests that hot needle therapy with blood-letting and cupping the affected area may be more effective than using halometasone cream for patients with this condition.
  • Bladder dysfunction (neurogenic bladder). Early research shows that acupuncture might improve bladder control and symptoms in people with bladder dysfunction.
  • Paralysis of eye muscles (ophthalmoplegia). Early research suggests that acupuncture may improve eye movement and other symptoms in people with this condition.
  • Opioid withdrawal. Early research suggests that acupuncture used in combination with a detoxification program reduces opioid withdrawal symptoms. But other research shows no benefit.
  • Parkinson’s disease. Early research shows that acupuncture helps improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease when used along with tuina massage and qi gong.
  • Irregular heart beat (paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia). Early research suggests that wrist-ankle acupuncture may improve this type of irregular heart beat.
  • Nerve pain that affects the arms and legs (peripheral neuropathy). Early research shows that acupuncture may improve symptoms of this condition.
  • Pain after removal of the uterus (post-hysterectomy pain). Some early research shows that electroacupuncture decreases the need for pain-relieving medications when used after surgical removal of the uterus. But other research shows no benefit.
  • Pain after surgery. Most research suggests that acupuncture decreases pain after surgery. But conflicting results exist. The small number of people involved in the research limits the reliability of these findings.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Early research shows that acupuncture may improve self-reported symptoms of PTSD.
  • Pregnancy-related pain. Early research suggests that acupuncture reduces pain and improves the ability to walk and do other activities in pregnant women with pelvic and low back pain.
  • Rupture of the amniotic sac at least an hour before labor. Early research suggests that acupuncture does not induce labor but may reduce the need for oxytocin to induce labor in pregnant women whose amniotic sac breaks before labor starts.
  • Anxiety before surgery. Early research shows that acupuncture can reduce anxiety and pain before and after surgery.
  • Inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis). Early research suggests that laser or needle acupuncture can improve symptoms of prostatitis.
  • Itching (pruritus). Early research shows that acupuncture can reduce itching in people undergoing dialysis.
  • Psoriasis. Early research shows that acupuncture does not improve skin lesions in people with long-term plaque psoriasis.
  • Raynaud’s syndrome. Early research suggests that acupuncture treatments may improve symptoms and reduce the frequency of attacks in people with Raynaud’s syndrome.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Research shows that acupuncture does not affect pain, tender joints, and general health in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
  • Schizophrenia. Some research shows that acupuncture used along with usual medications for schizophrenia might improve some symptoms. But the small number of people involved in the research limits the reliability of these findings.
  • Shoulder pain. Some research shows that acupuncture can reduce shoulder pain in people in wheelchairs due to spinal cord injuries. But patients who received “sham treatment,” treatment known not to be effective, also reported less pain. This response may be due to “the placebo effect.” The placebo effect is the tendency of some people to feel better because they want to believe the treatment they received worked. The similarity of improvements between the two groups-patients receiving acupuncture and patients receiving sham treatment-suggests that acupuncture might not be responsible for reducing pain.
  • Sinus infection (sinusitis). Early research shows that acupuncture does not improve symptoms of sinus infections such as mucus production, stuffy nose, headache, and decreased sense of smell.
  • Sleep apnea. Early research shows that acupuncture reduces the number of breathing problems in people with sleep apnea.
  • Stroke. There is some evidence that acupuncture following the type of stroke that is caused by a blood clot in the brain (ischemic stroke) is associated with a slightly reduced risk of death, disability, and institutional care after 3 months. It’s less clear how well acupuncture works in stroke rehabilitation. This is the process stroke patients undergo to try to regain some of the abilities they lost because of the stroke. Bigger studies involving more people are needed to measure the effectiveness of acupuncture on stroke rehabilitation.
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Some research suggests that acupuncture can reduces pain and other symptoms of TMJ. But some experts question these results because the research didn’t rule out “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Poor bladder control (urinary incontinence). Early research suggests that acupuncture may improve poor bladder control in elderly women.
  • Skin rash. Early research suggests that acupuncture with point injections may improve symptoms of resistant skin rash.
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Some early research shows that acupuncture may improve ringing in the ears. But other research show no benefit.
  • Dementia due to stroke (vascular dementia). Early research suggests that acupuncture added to standard treatment improves symptoms in patients with vascular dementia. But acupuncture might not work any better than piracetam.
  • Dizziness (vertigo). Early research suggests that acupuncture reduces dizziness. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as moxibustion.
  • Weight loss. Acupuncture might help people lose weight. But results are inconsistent.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of acupuncture for these uses.

Acupuncture is a treatment method used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture treatment involves inserting fine needles into specific parts or points on the body along pathways called “meridians.” The purpose is to stimulate points that correspond to specific organs, emotions, or sensory feelings. For example, acupuncture around the ear, feet, and hands targets the pain of labor.

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought that disease is caused by an imbalanced or blocked flow of energy or “qi.” Therefore, acupuncture is thought to stimulate energy flow, unblock energy, and rebalance energy, which results in healing.

Most acupuncture points are located near nerves. Researchers suggest that inserting an acupuncture needle at these points may block pain signals.

Some experts also think that acupuncture might release natural chemicals called endorphins or opioids, which naturally reduce pain.

For depression and other mental conditions, acupuncture is thought to stimulate chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that allow nerve cells to communicate. Some researchers believe that acupuncture might increase the production and release of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that play a big role in depression.

Acupuncture is safe when used appropriately. Side effects are generally rare, but can include dizziness, nausea and vomiting, pain, fainting, and infection of the needle insertion points.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Acupuncture seems to be safe in pregnant and breast-feeding women when used appropriately. Researchers who studied the effects of acupuncture on labor pain reported no harm or serious side effects among the women participating in the study.

It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines.

Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.

There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

There are no known interactions with foods.

The appropriate or safe use of acupuncture depends on several factors such as the condition being treated or the person administering the treatment. Be sure to seek and follow relevant directions from your physician or other healthcare professional before using this treatment.

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