Acupuncture: Is it Worth A Shot?

From small private clinics to health spas to major city hospitals, acupuncture has really needled its way into our modern-day medicine. This ancient Chinese healing method has plenty of supporters and anecdotal success, but some doctors and researchers aren't quite as impressed. If you've been thinking about trying acupuncture, it may be helpful to know a bit more about it before taking the plunge.

Got qi?

According to traditional Eastern medicine, acupuncture relies on the principle of qi (say "chi"), described as an energetic life force in the body that flows along several specific routes called "meridians." These meridians are said to become blocked from time to time, which can disrupt the normal flow of qi and cause illness in the body. Acupuncture needling is believed to unblock these meridians and restore energy, balance and the flow of qi. In today's modern medicine, many practitioners acknowledge that while qi may not be scientifically viable, acupuncture still seems to be effective for relieving symptoms associated with certain health problems.

Acupuncture 101: A Typical Session

During an acupuncture session, a licensed practitioner inserts sterile needles into the skin along various points on your body as you lie or sit in a comfortable position. If that sounds super prickly, try not to worry too much; the needles used for acupuncture are very small and thin, and patients often report mild to no discomfort from the needles. Proponents of the technique believe that these needles actually trigger various biological and neurochemical effects within the body that promote healing.

What The Scientists Say

There's some evidence to support the use of acupuncture in the treatment of back pain and neck pain. Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of research for the use of acupuncture with other health conditions. A branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH) that is dedicated to integrative medicine, is currently funding research to investigate whether acupuncture can help reduce pain related to menopause and chemotherapy.

Anecdotally, acupuncture has been used to treat anything from depression to acne, asthma, allergies, and digestive problems. You can even find some holistic veterinarians who purport the use of acupuncture for your cat or dog.  

Thinking About Acupuncture? Things To Consider

  • Consult with the real deal. Different healthcare providers can become certified to perform acupuncture, including physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and traditional Eastern medicine physicians. Always make sure that your acupuncturist is licensed and certified.
  • Inquire about cost. Not all insurances cover alternative therapies such as acupuncture, so be sure to consider the per-treatment costs.
  • Always defer to your physician. Don't use acupuncture in lieu of consulting with your primary care doctor for a given health problem.

Ultimately, there seems to be little risk with acupuncture. When performed correctly, side effects are virtually nil. Of course, the legitimacy of acupuncture's therapeutic effects seems to be more up to interpretation, and many doctors suspect that beneficial results are likely due to a placebo effect (the treatment works because the patient believes it will work). Ask around and it's likely that many people will tell you how helpful acupuncture has been for their own health conditions. Give it a shot if you'd like - just be sure to keep your doc informed.

10/17/2016 5:39:23 PM
Rob Greenstein
Written by Rob Greenstein
Rob Greenstein is the Editor-in-Chief and President of, Inc.
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