Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world that has evolved into a complete and holistic system. Practitioners of acupuncture have used this noninvasive healthcare system for more than 2,500 years. The term acupuncture describes a procedure involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.
The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation. The needles are tiny in diameter, just a little larger than a human hair, 30 to 36 gauge. The depth of the needle insertion varies depending on the anatomical area needled. Typically, needles are inserted at shallow depths about 1/8 of an inch . The sensation caused by an acupuncture needle varies. Some people feel a little sensation as the needles are inserted, but most people feel no pain at all.
Public acceptance of acupuncture in the United States is growing. In the May 1993 Overview of Acupuncture published by the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health puncture, the FDA estimated 9 – 12 million patient visits per year. In the 1997 Consensus Conference on Acupuncture Statement the NIH estimated that more than 1 million Americans receive acupuncture each year. The Western Journal of Medicine in 1998 reported a Kaiser study showing that 57.2 percent of physicians in northern California used or recommended acupuncture in the last 12 months. The number of licensed acupuncturists in the US rose from 5,528 in 1992 to 10,512 in 1998.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only. Few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. It is an all natural drug-free therapy, generally yielding no side effects except feeling of relaxation and well-being. There is little danger of infection from acupuncture needles because they are sterile, used once, and then discarded.
National education and certification standards for acupuncture colleges are set by The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. ACAOM is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. There are more than 40 accredited or candidate colleges of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in the U.S. today. Standards to practice acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbology safely and effectively have been established by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Knowledge of needle sterilization and clean needle technique are part of the acupuncture certification requirements.
Acupuncture is recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as effective in treating the following conditions
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as food allergies, peptic ulcer, chronic diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, gastrointestinal weakness, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastritis.
- Urogenital disorders, including stress incontinence, urinary tract infections, and sexual dysfunction.
- Gynecological disorders, such as irregular, heavy, or painful menstruation, infertility in women and men, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopausal symptoms
- Respiratory disorders, such as emphysema, sinusitis, asthma, allergies, bronchitis, pneumonia
- Disorders of the bones, muscles, joints such as osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist pain, tennis elbow, shoulder pain, neck and low back pain, hip ad knee arthritis
- Disorders of the nervous system, such as migraine headaches, neuralgia, sciatica, dizziness, facial palsy and tics, trigeminal neuralgia
- Circulatory disorders, such as hypertension, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis and anemia
- Emotional and psychological disorders, including depression and anxiety
- Sleep disturbances
- Addictions, such as alcohol, nicotine and drugs
- Eye, ear, nose and throat disorders
- Supportive therapy for other chronic and painful debilitating disorders
The therapy of acupuncture has a long history. In its 2500 years of development, a wealth of experience has been accumulated, attesting to the wide range of diseases and conditions that can effectively be treated with its approach. In the past two decades, there have been extensive studies on acupuncture and great efforts have been undertaken to conduct controlled clinical trials, including the use of “sham” acupuncture or “placebo” acupuncture controls.
In 1997 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus of Acupuncture reported that studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can cause multiple biological responses, mediated mainly by sensory neurons to many structures within the central nervous system. This can lead to activation of pathways affecting various physiological systems in the brain as well as in the periphery.
Here is the full view of the NIH Acupuncture Consensus
The NIH Consensus also reported that acupuncture may activate the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in a broad spectrum of systemic effects. Alteration in the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones and changes in the regulation of blood flow, both centrally and peripherally have been documented. There is also evidence of alterations in immune functions produced by acupuncture.
In reference to acupuncture’s clinical efficacy the NIH Consensus further stated that promising results have emerged, for example, efficacy of acupuncture in adult post-operative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in post-operative dental pain. There are other situations such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, Fibromyalgia myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma where acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. Further research is likely to uncover additional areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.
Acupuncture and Arthritis
An NCCAM-funded study recently showed that acupuncture provides pain relief, improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee, and serves as an effective complement to standard care.1
1. Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, et al. Effectiveness of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004;141(12):901-910.
Acupuncture and Allergies
Acupuncture has an extensive action against type 1 allergenic, reaction, and the curative effect of the patients receiving acupuncture was higher than in the desensitization group in allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis and chronic urticaria. 2
2. J. Traditional Chinese Medicine, 1993 Dec.;13 (4): 243-8.
Acupuncture and Fertility
A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that acupuncture improves pregnancy success rate by 50% in women undergoing in-vitro fertilization. 3
3. Paulus W, et. Al., Influence of acupuncture on pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy.J Fertility and Sterility, 2002 April; 77 (4);721-4.
Acupuncture and Insomnia
In the treatment of insomnia, acupuncture yields a significant result with a total effective rate of 90.44%, improves the quality of sleep and overcomes complications induced by sleep medication. 4;5
4. J Adv Nursing, 2003Nov.;44($):375-84.
5. J Traditional Chinese Medicine, 2002 Dec.;22($):276-77.
Insurance coverage varies from state to state. Contact your insurance provider to learn what kind of care is covered.
Here are a few questions to ask:
1. Will my plan cover acupuncture?
2. How many visits per calendar year?
3. Do I need a referral?
4. Do I have a co-pay?
5. Do I have a deductible? If yes, has it been met?