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What is it?

Although many people consider acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to be the same, acupuncture is only one part of TCM. Acupuncture has been practiced in China for thousands of years. But it has only become a popular form of treatment in Western countries since the 1970's.

The goal of acupuncture is to encourage the movement of qi ("life energy") through the 14 channels (meridians) inside the body. Chinese medicine theory states that the constant flow of qi through these channels is essential for a person to keep their health. If this energy flow is blocked, the body cannot keep the balance that is needed to maintain high energy or to deal with health issues.

A break or blockage of the channel is thought to cause illness or pain at any point along its path. For example, a blockage or decrease in the activity of the gallbladder channel may be a reason for a headache. The headache may be helped by pressing on the points of the gallbladder channel, which are at the base of the skull . Points on the large intestine channel may be pressed to relieve headaches.

Once a care giver has learned the cause of the energy blockage, a treatment plan can be made. An acupuncture treatment may include moving the inactive energy or building it (tonifying) up through the insertion of tiny needles into the proper acupuncture points. Some acupuncturists may also use heat, suction, magnets, low powered lasers, or electrical stimulation to tonify or move the energy in the patient.

A treatment may last 20 to 60 minutes. One or more treatments may be needed, depending on the cause and the seriousness of the problem. The patient's response to treatment will also determine how many treatments may be needed.

Although many people think acupuncture only helps pain, the World Health Organization (WHO) has listed 104 conditions that acupuncture can treat. These include migraine headaches, sinusitis, common cold, tonsillitis, asthma, and addictions. Ulcers and other abdominal problems, trigeminal neuralgia, eye problems, and Meniere's disease may be helped with acupuncture. Tennis elbow, post stroke paralysis, sciatica, and arthritis may be improved with acupuncture therapy. Other conditions that may improve with acupuncture are acute back pain, urogenital problems, frozen shoulder, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, menstrual cramps, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Many care givers practice acupuncture. The laws are different from state to state about acupuncture practice. Some states do not allow acupuncture while others limit its practice to medical doctors and chiropractors. Where acupuncture is legal, the acupuncturist must have graduated from an approved acupuncture school and passed a state licensing exam. Ask your acupuncturist about his education and training to be sure he is skilled in acupuncture.

There are other things to be aware of when choosing an acupuncturist or having an acupuncture treatment. Ask the acupuncturist if he sterilizes his needles or instead, uses throw-away needles. Tell the acupuncturist if you are pregnant because certain points should not be stimulated during pregnancy. You should also tell your acupuncturist if you have a spreadable disease, such as hepatitis or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Pain can be a symptom of serious illness. Talk to your doctor before having acupuncture if you have new pain , pain that is getting worse, or pain that you have had a long time.

Call the following organizations for more information:


1. Burton Goldberg Group: Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Future Medicine Publishing, Puyallup, WA; 1994.

2. Cassileth BR: The Alternative Medicine Handbook, 1st ed. WW Norton & Company, NY, NY; 1998.

3. Inglis B & West R: The Alternative Health Guide. Alfred A. Knopf, NY, NY; 1983.

4. Kastner MA: Alternative Healing: The Complete A to Z Guide to Over 160 Different Alternative Therapies. Halcyon Publishing, La Mesa, CA; 1993.

5. Sifton DW: The PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. Three Rivers Press, NY, NY; 1999.

6. Woodham A & Peters D: Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies, 1st ed. Dorling Kindersley, NY, NY; 1997.

Last Updated: 9/15/2016

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