What Is Acupuncture Understanding Acupuncture

Though acupuncture is an ancient practice in the eastern world, it is relatively new to western medicine–acupuncture therapy was first widely introduced to the United States in the early 1970s. During an acupuncture treatment, practitioners insert very fine needles into specific points (called “acupuncture points” or “acupoints”) on the body to stimulate healing.

Origin and Styles of Acupuncture Treatment

Acupuncture has been practiced in China as part of what Westerners call “traditional Chinese medicine” (TCM) for more than 2,000 years. Most acupuncturists are trained to offer acupuncture therapy in the tradition of TCM; however, other styles of acupuncture are available, including Japanese acupuncture, Korean acupuncture and modern variations, such as electroacupuncture and laser acupuncture.

The underlying basis for acupuncture, and all TCM, is that disease develops when disruptions occur in the flow of energy–called “Qi”–through energy pathways, called meridians. The purpose of stimulating acupuncture points is to restore the flow of energy, enabling the body to heal itself.

The Western scientific view of acupuncture treatment is that it may stimulate biological and physiological processes in the body that can lead to healing.

What is Acupuncture Therapy Used For?

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture treatment is just one therapy that might be used–along with herbs, massage, exercise and other therapies–to treat a wide range of conditions. TCM and acupuncture practitioners do not have a set treatment for any condition; they determine treatment based on the unique characteristics of each person.

Western clinical trials have demonstrated that acupuncture is sometimes effective for the treatment of pain and for nausea due to chemotherapy.

Receiving Acupuncture Treatment

Acupuncture performed by a trained, qualified practitioner has few risks or side effects. Bruising can occur at the needle insertion sites, and in rare cases, an improperly trained practitioner could puncture an organ. Most practitioners use sterile, single-use, disposable needles–in the U.S., these are regulated by the Federal Drug and Food Administration–to avoid the risk of spreading disease and infection.

The specifics of an acupuncture session vary. A typical acupuncture session lasts from 30 to 60 minutes. Usually, you lie in a comfortable position, the practitioner inserts the needles, and you relax until the session is over. Acupuncture is generally fairly painless, although you may feel a prick with the insertion of the needle or some sensations after insertion.

If you have a medical condition and decide to receive acupuncture, always let both your acupuncturist and other healthcare providers know about other treatments you are receiving.


Dupuis, C. (2006). Introduction to acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.yinyanghouse.com/basics/introduction_to_acupuncture

MedicineNet. (n.d.). Acupuncture. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://www.medicinenet.com/acupuncture/article.htm

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2009). Acupuncture: An Introduction. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://nccam.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction.htm

World Health Organization. (2003). Acupuncture: Review and analysis of reports on controlled clinical trials. Retrieved February 25, 2011, from http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Js4926e/5.html