Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and to improve functioning. This is done by inserting needles and applying heat or electrical stimulation at very precise acupuncture points (AAMA, 2016).
Acupuncture has existed since at least the Han Dynasty in China over 2,000 years ago and was introduced in Europe in the 17th century (AAMA, 2016, para.1) During the Warring States Era (421 -221 B.C.), metal needles replaced the stone needles. Four gold needles and five silver needles were found in an ancient tomb dating back to 113 B.C. The Miraculous Pivot names nine types of acupuncture needles (ACOS, 2016).
From 260-265 A.D., the famous physician Huang Fu Mi, organized all of the ancient literature into his classic text – Systemic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (ACOS, 2016). The popularity and use of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in China ebbed and flowed with passing generations. Acupuncture was used exclusively during the long march (1934-35) in China and, despite harsh conditions, it helped maintain the health of the army (ACOS, 2016).
NCCAM has supported extensive research on acupuncture. Studies have looked at its effect on specific health conditions and how it affects the brain and nervous system. Originally founded in 1992 as the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM), the NCCAM facilitates the research and evaluation of unconventional medical practices and disseminates this information to the public. The NCCAM established in 1998, supports 13 Centers, where researchers conduct studies on complementary and alternative medicine for specific health conditions and diseases. Scientists at several Centers are investigating acupuncture therapy.Researchers at the NCCAM Center at the University of Maryland in Baltimore conducted a randomized controlled clinical trial and found that patients treated with acupuncture after dental surgery had less intense pain than patients who received a placebo. 20 Other scientists at the Center found that older people with osteoarthritis experienced significantly more pain relief after using conventional drugs and acupuncture together than those using conventional therapy alone (AAMA, 2016).
Acupuncture is a popular alternative treatment for pain caused by injury, arthritis, headaches and migraines, cancer, and other conditions that cause chronic pain. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that, “Results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches” (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2015-b, para. 5). Relief of pain caused by fibromyalgia may also be a result of acupuncture (NCCIH, 2015-a, para. 3).
Image retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture
Acupuncture is the use of small needles placed in specific areas to help relieve pain and inflammation. Acupuncture help can reduce muscles spasm and inflammation associated with the sciatic nerve by improving blood flow to the lower back and increasing circulation. It helps relax muscles and may increase flexibility (Woods, 2010). Because this is related to nerves, needles are placed in areas in different parts of the body and are considered receptors of nerve pain.
A study done by Lei et al. (2014), found that patients with Parkinson’s disease experienced an improvement in their balance, gait, and length stride after acupuncture treatments were complete. In this study there were two groups. One group received electroacupuncture and the control group received sham acupuncture. Each patient received a 30-minute acupuncture session once a week for three weeks. Objective measurements were taken of each patient’s gait and balance while doing various activities and from various positions. It was found that in the acupuncture group, balance increased by 31 percent, gait speed increased by 10 percent, and stride length increased by 5 percent. There was no improvement in the control group. Due to this study, researchers concluded that electroacupuncture is an effective therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
Image retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parkinson%27s_disease
Studies have also shown inconclusive evidence that acupuncture is effective in treating depression, but NCCIH reports that this limited evidence is also due to, “different types of acupuncture studied, duration and frequency of sessions, and methodological flaws, including small sample sizes, and inconsistent randomization and blinding” (NCCIH, 2015-d, para. 38). Therefore, it remains to be seen whether or not acupuncture can benefit those suffering from depression. Similar studies are being performed to determine the efficacy of acupuncture for stress and anxiety, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Further research is needed to determine the benefits of acupuncture in this area, among many others.
A rigorous and highly detailed study financed by the National Institutes of Health that was published in the journal “Archives of Internal Medicine” found that acupuncture could indeed effectively manage various sources of chronic pain (O’Connor, 2012). Acupuncture has been studied for years and thus far results have been inconclusive which is why this particular study is so important. This study was concluded over many years, involved close to 18,000 patients, and had more than 30 people from all over the world working on it (O’Connor, 2012). The results showed that acupuncture was more effective at treating pain than sham acupuncture or standard care in the following disorders: chronic back pain, chronic neck pain, chronic shoulder pain, migraines, and osteoarthritis (O’Connor, 2012).
Image retrieved from http://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/workout-routines/
In addition to relieving chronic pain, acupuncture helps with pain associated with cancer and its treatments while reducing nausea. The Society for Integrative Oncology recommends acupuncture for pain, side effects associated with cancer treatments, as well as nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. Additionally, in a random 2015 study, 70 percent of patients reported that acupuncture helped to relieve nausea and pain from chemotherapy (NCCIH, 2015-c, para. 7). Acupuncture has many benefits, especially for those who are suffering from chronic pain, but, as with any treatment, the results may vary from patient to patient. Although studies have been done with patients suffering from numerous illnesses and chronic conditions, little evidence is available to support that acupuncture can help relieve Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and other common illnesses.
Many hope that with acupuncture and other alternative care treatments they will achieve relief from chronic pain and discomfort whether from injury or illness. More and more people are trying alternative care options such as acupuncture in hopes of not having to use western medicine and harsh pharmaceuticals. People who are choosing to use this branch of medicine are striving to not use modern medications and they have a strong belief that the body is capable of self-healing from the needle stimulation.
Image retrieved from http://www.phytologymedica.com/acupuncture
According to the Mayo Clinic (2015), the risks of acupuncture are extremely low and include: Soreness, bleeding, bruising, infection, and organ injury. Organ injury can be cause if a needle is pushed in too deeply. There are also some risks associated with having a pacemaker and being pregnant. Some forms of acupuncture involve the application of electrical pulses, which could interfere with a pacemaker, and there are some theories that acupuncture could stimulate labor. Using an acupuncturists that is competent and certified by the proper authorities and is extremely important to maintain the safety of this treatment (Mayo Clinic, 2015).
Image retrieved from http://www.summitchiroandrehab.com/risks/
There are several examples of serious complications of acupuncture and they are the result of either non-sterile equipment or the presence of bacteria on the body which is then driven deep into the body by needle insertion.
One man with diabetes mellitus and liver disease reportedly contracted necrotizing fasciitis, which is a severe infection of the deep subcutaneous tissues and fascia after undergoing acupuncture. It is thought that perhaps the needle insertion drove the bacteria deep into the tissue. This is the first such case reported (Kotton, Soboh, & Bisharat, 2015).
There has also been one report of a 57-year-old woman who contracted MRSA acute vertebral osteomyelitis with intraspinal and multiple paraspinal abscesses after acupuncture (Lubana, Alfishawy, Singh, & Brennessel, 2015). At this time, “Three deaths have been reported in which acupuncture was claimed as the cause, with one patient who died from endocarditis, another from bilateral pneumothorax, and a third due to severe asthma during acupuncture therapy” (Lubana, Alfishawy, Singh, & Brennessel, 2015, p. 2).
Image retrieved from http://ashi-acupuncture.com/pneumothorax-prevention/
According to Lee, Kim, and Ernst (2012), after reviewing three databases for studies on the effects of acupuncture on cancer-related symptoms, it was found that no conclusive evidence exists about whether acupuncture or placebo is better.
Large clinical studies in Germany and the U.S. have consistently proven that there is no difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture treatments in decreasing pain levels for conditions such as: migraines, low back pain, tension headaches, and osteoarthritis of the knee. Some studies have showed a 10 percent improvement between acupuncture and no acupuncture but clinically speaking, that number is not significant and would not make a distinguishable difference for most people (Colquhoun & Novella, 2013).
It also appears that there may be publication bias and if authors happen to support acupuncture, then they are more likely to spin clinically irrelevant numbers in favor of acupuncture (Colquhoun & Novella, 2013).
According to Colquhoun and Novella (2013):
Even though alternative medicine proponents often claim that acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, it is also known that acupuncture has not always been popular in China where it originated. “For almost 1000 years, it was in decline, and in 1822, Emperor Dao Guang issued an imperial edict stating that acupuncture and moxibustion should be banned forever from the Imperial Medical Academy” (Colquhoun & Novella, 2013, p. 1360).
The Chinese Communist Party ridiculed acupuncture as superstitious and it wasn’t until 1966 that chairman Mao Zedong revived Traditional Chinese Medicine as part of a cultural revolution. “The revival was a convenient response to the death of medically trained people in postwar China and a useful way to increase Chinese nationalist” (Colquhoun & Novella, 2013, p. 1360).
In the west, acupuncture became popular after President Nixon visited China in 1972 and a journalist wrote about receiving the treatment in Beijing in the New York Times (Colquhoun & Novella, 2013). Rumors circulated and TV networks reported that people in China had open heart surgery using only acupuncture. When these rumors were investigated, it was found that the patients had received a combination of several very powerful sedatives and the acupuncture needles were there only for cosmetic purposes (Colquhoun & Novella, 2013).
Image retrieved from http://liusacupuncture.com/
“The effects of acupuncture on the brain and body and how best to measure them are only beginning to be understood. Current evidence suggests that many factors—like expectation and belief—that are unrelated to acupuncture needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain” (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2015-b, para. 6).
In 2014, a study of the outcomes of acupuncture was published in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine. Within this study, professionals discovered two main areas needing further research in regards to the efficacy of complementary alternative medicine (CAM): “1) how patients’ health beliefs influence their experiences of illness, treatment choices, and use of specific forms of CAM and 2), what treatment outcomes are individually meaningful to patients’ and how these can be better understood and assessed” (Jakes, Kirk, & Muir, 2014, p. 671). The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health made a similar observation on how the effects of acupuncture and measuring its effectiveness is just starting to be comprehended and researched. It also describes that patients’ expectations and beliefs may influence the results of acupuncture in relieving pain (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2015-b, para. 6).
Image retrieved from http://www.healing-room.org/acupuncture/
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the
body to promote natural healing and to
improve functioning. This is done by inserting
needles and applying heat or electrical
stimulation at very precise acupuncture
History of Acupuncture
Acupuncture has existed
since the Han Dynasty in
China over 2,000 years
Introduced in Europe in
the 17th century.
During the Warring States
Era (421 -221 B.C.), metal
needles replaced the
From 260-265 A.D.,
physician Huang Fu Mi,
organized all of the ancient
literature into his classic text.
Acupuncture was used
exclusively during the long
It helped maintain the health
of the army.
Acupuncture is studied on its effect on specific health conditions
and how it affects the brain and nervous system.
The NCCAM facilitates the research and evaluation of
unconventional medical practices such as acupuncture.
NCCAM research has found that:
Patients treated with acupuncture after dental surgery had less intense
pain than patients who received a placebo.
Older people with osteoarthritis experienced significantly more pain relief
after using conventional drugs and acupuncture together.
What is Acupuncture used for?
Acupuncture is a popular
alternative treatment for pain
Headaches and migraines
Other chronic conditions
Sciatic Nerve and Lower Back Pain
Those who suffer from
back pain can benefit
The treatment allows
the muscles to relax
and for the patient to
feel relief from lower
A study found that patients who suffer from
Parkinson's can benefit from receiving
acupuncture treatments on a regular basis.
Improvements were seen in:
Depression, Stress, and Anxiety
Limited evidence is available on the effects of
acupuncture on depression due to the
inconsistencies in research and studies.
Studies are being performed to determine the
efficacy of acupuncture for stress and anxiety,
including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Further research is needed to determine the
benefits of acupuncture in these areas.
New study shows acupuncture to be effective
at treating pain in the following conditions:
Chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain
Relief for cancer patients
The Society for
for pain, side effects
associated with cancer
treatments, as well as
nausea and vomiting from
Inconclusive evidence for
Acupuncture trials show
little evidence to support
that acupuncture can help
relieve Irritable Bowel
Syndrome (IBS), Attention
Disorder (ADHD), and
other chronic illnesses.
Why Choose Acupuncture?
The hope of relieving pain and
discomfort associated with
alternative treatments are
becoming more popular.
More and more people want to
stray away from pain
medication and choose to use
alternative methods to reduce
their pain and discomfort.
Risks of Acupuncture
Serious Risks of Acupuncture
While serious risks of acupuncture are
very low, there have been instances of:
Evidence is not conclusive on whether
acupuncture or placebo is better.
Many past studies were poorly designed.
Many pro-acupuncture studies made
conclusions based on clinically irrelevant
Chinese History - Debunked
Acupuncture was not always
popular in China.
One Emperor issued an edict
removing acupuncture from the
Imperial Medical Academy.
The Chinese Communist Party
Acupuncture came to the U.S. in
1972 after President Nixon visited
The Future of Acupuncture
“The effects of acupuncture on the brain and body and how
best to measure them are only beginning to be understood.
Current evidence suggests that many factors—like
expectation and belief—that are unrelated to acupuncture
needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects
of acupuncture on pain”
-National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences [ACOS]. 2016, History of Acupuncture.
Retrieved from: http//www.acos.org/articles/history-of-acupuncture/
American Association of Medical Acupuncture [AAMA]. 2016, NCAAM
Acupuncture Information, Retrieved from:
Colquhoun, D., & Novella, S. P. (2013). Acupuncture is theatrical placebo.
Anesthesia & Analgesia, 166, 1360-1363. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e31828f2d5e
Jakes, D., Kirk, R., & Muir, L. (2014). A Qualitative Systematic Review of
Patients' Experiences of Acupuncture. Journal Of Alternative & Complementary
Kotton, Y., Soboh, S., & Bisharat, N. (2015). Vibrio vulnificus necrotizing fasciitis
associated with acupuncture. Infectious Disease Reports, 7, 46-49. doi:
Lee, M. S., Kim, T. H., & Ernst, E. (2012). Is acupuncture or moxibustion better than a
sham or placebo-treatment? Acupuncture and Moxibustion as an Evidence-based
Therapy for Cancer, 3, 249-264. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-4833-0_11
Lei, Hong, Nima Toosizadeh, Michael Schwenk, Scott Sherman, Stephen Karp, Saman
Parvaneh, Esther Esternberg, and Bijan Najafi. "Objective Assessment of Electro-
acupuncture Benefit for Improving Balance and Gait in Patients with Parkinson’s
Disease (P3. 074)." Neurology 82, no. 10 Supplement (2014): P3-074.
Lubana, S. S., Alfishawy, M., Singh, N., & Brennessel, D. J. (2015). First reported case
of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus vertebral osteomyelitis with multiple spinal
and paraspinal abscesses associated with acupuncture. Case Reports in Medicine,
2015, 1-5. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/524241
Mayo Clinic. (2015). Acupuncture: Risks. Retrieved from
O'Connor, A. (2012, September 11). Acupuncture provides true pain relief in study. The
New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/11/acupuncture-
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2015-a). 6
Things To Know About Mind and Body Practices for Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2015-b).
Acupuncture: What You Need To Know. Retrieved from
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2015-c).
Complementary and Integrative Approaches for Cancer Symptoms and Treatment
Side Effects: What the Science Says. Retrieved from
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2015-d).
Depression and Complementary Health Approaches: What the Science Says.
Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/depression-
Woods, T. (2010). Ten tips to relieve sciatic nerve pain. EmaxHealth. Retrieved