Acupuncture

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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 or laser.

Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain-related conditions. It is also used for addictions, several mental disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson disease and 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.

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 that acupuncture is no better than sham acupuncture. So 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 cancer drug treatment. Using acupuncture along with anti-nausea medications seems to reduce vomiting right after chemotherapy more than taking anti-nausea medications alone.
  • Depression. There is some evidence that adding acupuncture to depression treatment may reduce symptoms in people with mild-to-moderate depression. It is unclear if acupuncture works better than medications for depression in all people with depression. But in women going through menopause, acupuncture might be more effective than medications.
  • Indigestion (dyspepsia). A moderate amount of early research shows that acupuncture decreases symptoms of dyspepsia. It might even work as well as or better than certain drugs.
  • Fibromyalgia. Most research shows that, when compared to no treatment or sham treatment, 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 migraine headache when compared to no treatment. But some research shows that acupuncture is not always better when compared to sham acupuncture. For some people, acupuncture might work as well as the drugs metoprolol or propranolol. Although there is some promising research, it is not clear if acupuncture improves pain during an acute migraine.
  • 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.” Still, since acupuncture is safe and might be effective, some doctors think it’s worth trying.
  • Nausea and vomiting after surgery. Acupuncture using needles or electric current helps reduce nausea and vomiting in adults and children after surgery. These methods may work as well as conventional medicines.
  • Painful conditions caused by overuse of tendons (tendinopathy). Some research shows that needle acupuncture may relieve tennis elbow pain, short-term. However, laser acupuncture does not seem to work.
  • Tension headache. Most research shows that acupuncture using needles or electrical current helps relieve 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.
  • Inability to become pregnant within a year of trying to conceive (infertility). Acupuncture doesn’t seem to increase the rate of pregnancy or successful births in women who are undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). It also doesn’t seem to be beneficial for women undergoing assistance for infertility called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). But in women not using IVF or ICSI, acupuncture might improve pregnancy rates.
  • Morning sickness. 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.
  • Quitting smoking. Acupuncture does not seem to help people quit smoking.
  • Infections of the kidney, bladder, or urethra (urinary tract infections or UTIs). Acupuncture doesn’t seem to prevent UTIs in women with a history of this condition.

Insufficient Evidence to Make a Determination for …

  • Alcohol use disorder. Early research shows that acupuncture may decrease drinking, tremor, depression, and craving in alcoholics.
  • Hay fever. Acupuncture might improve allergy symptoms in people who experience allergies year-round. But it’s not clear if acupuncture helps people with seasonal allergies.
  • Alzheimer disease. Early research shows that acupuncture might improve memory and thinking in people with Alzheimer disease.
  • Chest pain (angina). 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.
  • Joint pain caused by drugs called aromatase inhibitors (aromatase inhibitor-induced arthralgia). Most early research shows that acupuncture doesn’t reduce joint pain in people with joint pain from breast cancer drugs.
  • Athletic performance. Early research shows that acupuncture doesn’t improve exercise performance.
  • A condition that leads to weakness or paralysis of muscles on one side of the face (Bell palsy). Early research shows that acupuncture can reduce symptoms of Bell palsy when compared to no treatment.
  • Hot flashes in people treated for breast cancer. 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.” Acupuncture was no better than placebo acupuncture or relaxation for reducing hot flashes in these women.
  • Hard, painful breasts in breast-feeding women. Early research shows that acupuncture does not improve pain or swelling of breasts in women who are breastfeeding.
  • Incorrect position of the baby at birth (breech birth). Early research shows that using acupuncture does not reduce the risk of breech presentations or Cesarean section (“C-Section”).
  • Tiredness in people with cancer. Early research shows that using acupuncture might reduce fatigue in women with breast cancer.
  • Pain in people with cancer. Early research shows that acupuncture might reduce pain and the need for pain medication in cancer patients.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. Acupuncture might have a small or no benefit for carpal tunnel syndrome. But other using laser acupuncture along with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or a hand splint 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.
  • Arthritis of the neck (cervical spondylosis). Early research shows that acupuncture reduces pain in people with cervical spondylosis. But higher quality studies are needed to confirm.
  • Tiredness in people treated with cancer drugs. Early research shows that acupuncture is no different than sham acupuncture for reducing fatigue from cancer drugs.
  • Damage to the immune system caused by cancer drug treatment. 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 when compared to no treatment.
  • Nerve damage in the hands and feet caused by cancer drug treatment. Early research shows that acupuncture might help to reduce nerve pain caused by cancer drug treatment.
  • A lung disease that makes it harder to breathe (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD). Early research shows that acupuncture can improve shortness of breath and the ability to walk in people with this lung condition. However, acupuncture does not seem to improve how well the lungs work in people with COPD.
  • A condition that causes persistent pelvic pain, urinary problems, and sexual problems (Chronic prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome). Early research suggests that electric, laser, or needle acupuncture may improve symptoms of chronic prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndrome.
  • Cocaine use disorder. Early research shows that ear acupuncture doesn’t reduce cocaine use in people addicted to cocaine.
  • Decline in memory and thinking skills in older people that is more than what is normal for their age. Early research shows that adding acupuncture to other therapies might improve memory and thinking skills in older people with declined thinking skills due to stroke.
  • Excessive crying in infants (colic). Early research shows that acupuncture does not reduce excessive crying in infants.
  • Constipation. Early research shows that acupuncture with electrical currents slightly increases bowel movements in people with constipation.
  • Dry eye. 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.”
  • Menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea). Early research shows that acupuncture using needles or electrical current can help decrease pain during painful periods and might work better than certain drugs. But not all research agrees.
  • Confusion and agitation after surgery. Some early research shows that acupuncture during surgery might reduce agitation and confusion after surgery in children. But other early research disagrees. It’s possible that some acupuncture points are more effective than others.
  • Seizure disorder (epilepsy). Some early research shows that adding acupuncture to traditional Chinese medicine or conventional therapy does not seem to decrease seizures in people with epilepsy.
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED). Some early research shows that acupuncture might help improve symptoms of erectile dysfunction. But not all research agrees.
  • Delayed emptying of food from the stomach into the intestines (gastroparesis). Early research shows that acupuncture might improve symptoms of slow digestion in people with diabetes by a small amount when compared to taking domperidone (Motilium).
  • HIV/AIDS. Early research shows that acupuncture might improve symptoms and quality of life in people with HIV. But acupuncture does not reduce nerve pain in people with this condition.
  • High blood pressure. Most research shows that acupuncture modestly reduces blood pressure. But it is not known if this effect lasts for a while and whether it improves heart health.
  • A long-term disorder of the large intestines that causes stomach pain (irritable bowel syndrome or 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.”
  • Swelling in the arms or legs caused by damage to the lymph system (lymphedema). Early research shows that acupuncture might help to reduce pain and swelling in women with breast cancer who have damage to the lymph system.
  • Symptoms of menopause. The effects of needle 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. Some research also shows that electroacupuncture might not reduce symptoms of menopause.
  • An autoimmune disorder that causes muscle weakness and muscle fatigue (myasthenia gravis). Early research shows that acupuncture might help to reduce symptoms of myasthenia gravis when used with medications like steroids or medications that decrease the immune system (immunosuppressants).
  • A condition that causes persistent muscle pain (myofascial pain syndrome). Early research shows that acupuncture may reduce pain in people with this condition.
  • Loss of bladder control in people with brain, spinal cord, or nerve injuries (neurogenic bladder). Early research shows that acupuncture might improve bladder control and symptoms in people with bladder dysfunction.
  • Injury to the brain, spine, or nerves (neurological trauma). Early research shows that aacupuncture might help with the recovery of people in a coma or vegetative state from brain injury.
  • Bedwetting. Early research shows that acupuncture might help reduce bed-wetting in children when used alone or with the medicine desmopressin.
  • Obesity. Acupuncture might help people lose weight, especially when combine with other interventions for weight loss. But not all research agrees.
  • Paralysis or weakness of eye muscles (ophthalmoplegia). Early research shows that acupuncture might improve eye movement and other symptoms in people with this condition. But it is not clear if this is due to a “placebo effect.”
  • Withdrawal from heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs. Early research suggests that acupuncture used in combination with a detoxification program reduces opioid withdrawal symptoms. But not all research agrees.
  • Overactive bladder. Some early research shows that acupuncture is as effective as medications for overactive bladder. But other research shows that it is no more effective than sham acupuncture.
  • Parkinson disease. Early research shows that acupuncture helps improve symptoms of Parkinson disease when used along with tuina massage and qi gong.
  • Childbirth. Acupuncture does not seem to reduce the rate of cesarean sections (“C-sections”) in pregnant women.
  • A heart condition marked by episodes of rapid heart rate (paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia). Early research suggests that wrist-ankle acupuncture might improve this type of irregular heartbeat.
  • Nerve damage in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). The effects of acupuncture for peripheral neuropathy are unclear. Some research shows that acupuncture is no different than sham acupuncture for improving nerve pain in the arms and legs. However, other research shows that adding acupuncture to dietary supplements improves nerve pain compared to using the dietary supplements alone.
  • A hormonal disorder that causes enlarged ovaries with cysts (polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS). Early research shows that acupuncture does not increase live births in women with PCOS.
  • Nerve pain caused by shingles (postherpetic neuralgia). Early research shows that acupuncture can reduce pain caused by shingles.
  • Impaired movement of food through the intestines after surgery. Early research shows that giving electro-acupuncture after surgery does not seem to improve movement of food through the intestines.
  • Pain after surgery. Most research shows that acupuncture decreases pain after surgery in some people. But not all research agrees. The small number of people involved in the research limits the reliability of these findings.
  • Depression after childbirth (postpartum depression). Early research shows that acupuncture might reduce depression after childbirth.
  • A type of anxiety that often develops after a terrifying event (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD). Early research shows that acupuncture might improve self-reported symptoms of PTSD.
  • Pain in women who are pregnant. Early research shows that acupuncture reduces pain and improves the ability to walk and do other activities in pregnant women with pelvic and low back pain.
  • Early orgasm in men (premature ejaculation). Early research shows that acupuncture helps with early orgasm in men when compared with sham acupuncture, but not when compared with medications.
  • Breaking open (rupture) of the amniotic sac before labor begins. Early research shows that acupuncture does not induce labor in pregnant women whose amniotic sac breaks before labor starts.
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Early research shows that acupuncture reduces psychological and physical PMS symptoms.
  • Anxiety before surgery. Early research shows that acupuncture can reduce anxiety and pain before and after surgery. But not all research agrees.
  • Itching. Early research shows that acupuncture can reduce itching in people undergoing dialysis.
  • Scaly, itchy skin (psoriasis). Early research shows that acupuncture does not improve skin lesions in people with long-term plaque psoriasis.
  • Nausea and vomiting caused by radiation therapy. Early research shows that acupuncture does not reduce nausea and vomiting caused by radiation therapy.
  • Painful response to cold especially in the fingers and toes (Raynaud 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). Early research shows that acupuncture does not affect pain, tender joints, and general health in people with RA. But not all research agrees. Other research in people with RA of the hand shows that acupuncture might improve pain and strength.
  • Swelling (inflammation) of the nasal cavity and sinuses (rhinosinusitis). Early research shows that acupuncture doesn’t improve symptoms of sinus infections such as mucus production, stuffy nose, headache, and decreased sense of smell.
  • 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.
  • Pain due to pressure on the sciatic nerve (sciatica). Early research shows that acupuncture might help to reduce leg pain in people with sciatica. But it doesn’t help with back pain. It also doesn’t seem to improve function.
  • Sexual problems that prevent satisfaction during sexual activity. Early research suggests that acupuncture is linked to reduced sexual problems in men and women who take antidepressant medications.
  • 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.
  • 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) slightly reduces the 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. Some small studies show that acupuncture improves daily activities and mental ability when compared to no treatment. Additionally, early research shows that acupuncture may improve movements in some people who are paralyzed on one side of the body due to stroke. Larger studies involving more people are needed to measure the effectiveness of acupuncture on stroke rehabilitation.
  • A group of painful conditions that affect the jaw joint and muscle (temporomandibular disorders or TMD). Some research suggests that acupuncture can reduces pain and other symptoms of TMJ. But not all research agrees.
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Some early research shows that acupuncture might improve ringing in the ears. But other research shows no benefit.
  • Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence). Early research shows that acupuncture improves poor bladder control in elderly women.
  • Hives (urticaria). Early research shows that a type of acupuncture that uses point injections might improve symptoms of resistant skin rash.
  • Dementia caused by reduced blood flow to the brain (vascular dementia). Early research shows that acupuncture added to standard treatment improves symptoms in patients with vascular dementia. But acupuncture might not work any better than the medication piracetam.
  • Dizziness (vertigo). Early research suggests that acupuncture reduces dizziness. But it doesn’t seem to work as well as moxibustion.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
  • 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 LIKELY SAFE when used appropriately. Side effects are uncommon but may include dizziness, nausea and vomiting, pain, fainting, and infection of the needle insertion points. Inappropriate use of acupuncture needles can cause serious trauma to internal organs and can cause serious adverse events including death.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Traditional acupuncture is POSSIBLY 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. There isn’t enough reliable information to know if electroacupuncture or laser acupuncture is safe during pregnancy. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Children. Acupuncture is POSSIBLY SAFE in children. There are no reports of serious side effects in research testing acupuncture in children.

There are no known interactions with medications. Before taking this product, 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.

Acuponcture, Acuponcture Auriculaire, Acuponcture Chinoise, Acuponcture Coréenne, Acuponcture Japonaise, Acuponcture de la Main, Acuponcture Occidentale, Acuponcture de l’Oreille, Acuponcture du Pied, Acupuntura, Auricular Acupuncture, Chinese Acupuncture, Ear Acupuncture, Electroacupuncture, Foot Acupuncture, Hand Acupuncture, Japanese Acupuncture, Korean Acupuncture, Laser Acupuncture, Needle Moxibustion, Single Point Acupuncture, Trigger Point Acupuncture, Western Acupuncture.

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