A Brief Explanation for Patients from:


Acupuncture: What is it? 

Acupuncture is a method of encouraging the body to promote natural healing and to improve functioning.  This is done by inserting needles or, if needed applying heat or electrical stimulation, at very precise acupuncture points. Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese procedure that according to records has been in existence since the first century BC.  It made its official appearance in the U.S. in 1971 when an article by J. Reston was published in the New York Times describing his personal experience with acupuncture.  While in Beijing reporting on a Ping-Pong tournament, he underwent an emergency appendectomy.  Acupuncture was used as surgical anesthesia and to relieve post-operative pain.

How does Acupuncture Work?

The classical Chinese explanation is that channels of energy run in regular patterns through the body and over its surface.  These energy channels, called meridians, are like rivers flowing through the body to irrigate and nourish the tissues.  An obstruction in the movement of these energy rivers is like a dam that backs up.

The meridians can be influenced by needling the acupuncture points, unblocking the obstructions and re-establishing the regular flow through the meridians.  Acupuncture treatments can therefore help the body’s internal organs to correct imbalances in digestion, absorption, and energy production, and in the circulation of energy through the meridians.

The modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain.  These chemicals, called endorphins, will either change the experience of pain, or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body’s own internal regulating system.

The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body’s natural healing abilities, and in promoting physical and emotional well being.

What is Medical Acupuncture?  Is it Different from Ordinary Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a very old medical art, and there are many approaches to learning and practicing it.  Medical acupuncture is the term used to describe acupuncture performed by a doctor trained and licensed in Western medicine who has also had thorough training in acupuncture.  Such a doctor can use a combination of both approaches as the need arises in treating an illness.

Medical acupuncture is a system that can be used in three ways: Promotion of health and well being, prevention of illness, and treatment of various medical conditions.  While acupuncture is often associated with pain control, it has much broader applications as well, in the hands of a well-trained practitioner.  The World Health Organization recognizes the use of acupuncture, as a sole or adjunctive treatment of a wide range of medical problems, including:

About Acupuncture Treatments:

Acupuncture needles are very thin, solid, and made from stainless steel.  Since these needles are solid and the point is smooth, insertion of the needles is not as painful as injections or blood draws.  Most patients feel only minimal or no pain as the needles are inserted: there is little sensation once they are in place.  Sterile, disposable needles are used to eliminate the risk of infection for the treatments.  The risk of bruising or skin irritation is less than when using a hollow needle.

There are few side effects from acupuncture.  Occasionally, the original symptoms will worsen for a few days or there may be changes in sleep, appetite, or other bodily functions.  It is common to experience deep relaxation or even mild disorientation immediately following the first one or two treatments, but this sensation passes quickly.

The number of treatments required varies according to the purpose of the treatment.  Chronic, long-standing conditions may require one to two treatments per week for several months while for health maintenance and prevention only four sessions a year may be needed.

What to Do the Day of a Treatment?

To enhance the value of a treatment, the following guidelines are important:

Is Acupuncture Covered by Health Insurance?

Some insurance companies currently cover acupuncture costs while other companies do no yet recognize the value of acupuncture.  Medicare does not cover acupuncture.  Each health policy must be reviewed to determine acupuncture benefits.   The AAMA is working to inform insurance companies and the public in order to standardize payment practices and accessibility to this type of treatment.  You can help by insisting that your insurance company offer you reimbursement for medically indicated acupuncture treatments before you accept their policy.

Does Acupuncture Really Work?

In the past 2,000 years, more people have been successfully treated with acupuncture than with all other health modalities combined.  Today, acupuncture is practiced widely in Asia, the former Soviet Union, and in Europe.  It is now being used more and more in America. Acupuncture treatments can be used with conventional Western medicine, osteopathic or chiropractic adjustments, and homeopathic or herbal prescriptions.  Acupuncture has been successful used on cats, dogs, horses, and other animals, who obviously do not understand or believe in the process that helps them get better.  This demonstrates that there is more to acupuncture than just the placebo effect, that is, “believing” that the treatment will work.   While a neutral attitude (“I don’t know if I really believe in this.”) will not block the treatment results, a negative attitude may hinder the effects of acupuncture or any other treatment.   A positive mental attitude towards healing and wellness, however, may reinforce the effects of any treatment received.