Alternative Medicine Traditional Chinese Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine in which a practitioner inserts very fine needles into the skin, stimulating certain points inside the body, balancing the flow of energy and restoring health.

Does Acupuncture Work?

The Chinese have used acupuncture for several thousand years to treat medical conditions. The evidence of Western research looking at acupuncture benefits is mixed, however. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (2009), acupuncture appears to work for some pain conditions, but more research is necessary.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

The two explanations for acupuncture benefits are the traditional Chinese view and the Western interpretation:

  • In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body contains a balance of “yin” (cold and passive energy) and “yang” (hot and active energy). These two elements must be in harmony for good health. When the yin and yang are unbalanced, the energy flow around the body (the “chi” or “qi”) is blocked. Acupuncture aims to unblock “meridians”—the paths that this energy takes throughout the body.
  • In Western medicine, acupuncture is seen as a way of relieving pain and discomfort by stimulating nerves, tissues and muscles. This triggers endorphins, or neurochemicals that relieve pain. Pain relief results in increased blood and oxygen flow, promoting relaxation and healing.

A Typical Acupuncture Session

During your first acupuncture session, the practitioner will take a detailed history of your general health and lifestyle. Because acupuncture, like many forms of alternative medicine, is a holistic treatment, the practitioner needs a complete picture of your overall health.

On subsequent visits, you’ll usually have a shorter question and answer session about your health and progress. Expect to pay $50 to $175 for a first visit and between $30 and $100 for each follow-up session.

After the question session, you lie on a comfortable surface, such as a massage table. The practitioner inserts thin needles into the appropriate places and may then heat them or gently rotate them in place.

You may feel a sting when the practitioner inserts or moves needles, and a dull ache when the needles are fully in position. After an appropriate period of time, the needles are removed. A typical acupuncture session lasts 30 to 60 minutes.

Using Acupuncture

If you’re interested in acupuncture benefits, choose a qualified practitioner. Most states license acupuncturists. To find a certified acupuncturist, start by contacting the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture.

Ensure that your practitioner uses single-use, disposable needles from a new pack to avoid spread of infection. Side effects of acupuncture treatments may include bruising, light bleeding or soreness at the site of insertion. In rare instances, a needle may break. Acupuncture may be unsafe for people with blood diseases or those taking blood thinners.

Acupuncture from licensed practitioners is generally safe. It has few side effects and generally doesn’t interfere with other treatments. Discuss this type of therapy with your doctor so he can coordinate acupuncture with your other medical treatments.


Mayo Clinic. (2007). Acupuncture: Can it help? Retrieved August 20, 2010, from

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2009). An introduction to acupuncture. Retrieved August 20, 2010, from

Singer, J. A. (n.d.). Acupuncture: A brief introduction. Retrieved August 20, 2010, from