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Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and it is one of the oldest healing practices in the world. By stimulating specific points on the body, acupuncture aims to restore and maintain health.

Acupuncture is considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and its practitioners incorporate healing traditions from Korea, China, Japan, as well as other countries. A family of procedures that involves stimulating anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques is described by the word acupuncture. Penetrating the skin with thin and solid metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation is the most common scientifically studied technique of acupuncture.


Acupuncture is one of the most important components of traditional Chinese medicine, and it has been practiced for thousands of years in China as well as in other Asian countries. According to traditional Chinese medicine, yin and yang are the two opposing and inseparable forces that make up the delicate balance of the body. The cold, slow or passive principle is represented by yin, while the hot, excited or active principle is represented by yang. Traditional Chinese medicine says that health is attained by maintaining the body in a balanced state, and that the internal imbalance of the yin and yang will lead to disease. In addition to this, the flow of qi (vital energy) becomes blocked along pathways known as meridians due to this imbalance. However, using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians can unblock qi. The number of meridians ranges from 14 to 20, and there are different sources on these numbers. The meridians are described in a commonly cited source as 14 main channels that connect the body in a weblike interconnecting matrix of at least 2000 acupuncture points.



The FDA has regulated the acupuncture needles to be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards, and that they should be used only by licensed practitioners. The FDA also requires that the needles be nontoxic, sterile and labeled for one-time use only by qualified practitioners.


Taking into consideration the millions of people that are treated each year and the number of needles that are used, relatively few complications have been reported to the FDA from acupuncture. However, improper delivery of treatments and inadequate sterilization of needles have caused complications. For each patient, the practitioner should use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package, and before inserting the needles, he/she should swab the treatment sites with alcohol or some other disinfectant. Infections and punctured organs are some of the serious adverse effects that could result from the improper delivery of acupuncture.


Below is the summary of a research done on acupuncture for different pain conditions, including the ones that were reported by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). Although further research is needed, but generally, acupuncture seems to be a promising alternative for some of these pain conditions:


Carpal tunnel syndrome:

Some studies have concluded that acupuncture is promising for carpal tunnel syndrome. However, there’s no further efficient research to confirm this finding.



There’s mixed evidence on acupuncture for fibromyalgia. However, promising evidence has been found by some reviews of the scientific literature. On the other hand, no benefit was found when another review focused on a few rigorous randomized controlled trials on acupuncture as an adjunct therapy for fibromyalgia.



There are conflicting results on acupuncture for headache. Evidence that support the use of acupuncture for headache has been found by some literature reviews, but those studies were noted by others to be of poor quality. All this aside, tension headaches were found to be relieved with acupuncture, according to a review done in 2009.


Low back pain:

Acupuncture is one of the several CAM therapies that physicians should consider when people with chronic low-back pain don’t respond to conventional treatment, according to clinical practice guidelines that were issued by the American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians in 2007.


Menstrual cramps:

Even though research is limited, but acupuncture has shown to be helpful with pain from menstrual cramps, according to two literature reviews.


Myofascial pain:

There’s mixed evidence on acupuncture for myofascial pain, the condition in which pain occurs in the muscles in sensitive areas, also known as trigger points. Promising evidence was found by some literature reviews, but another review indicated that needling therapies for myofascial trigger point pain weren’t any more effective than placebo.


Neck pain:

Acupuncture provides better pain relief than some simulated treatments according to studies of acupuncture for chronic neck pain.


Osteoarthritis/knee pain:

Especially in the area of knee pain, it seems that acupuncture is quite effective for osteoarthritis.


Postoperative dental pain:

Acupuncture was identified to be a promising treatment for dental pain according to literature reviews based on earlier evidence. However, recent data on acupuncture for postoperative dental pain are scant.


Tennis elbow:

There are mixed results on the use of acupuncture for tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondyle. Data on acupuncture for lateral epicondyle pain were reported to be insufficient and of poor quality by an early review of clinical trials. However, recent reviews have noted strong evidence that acupuncture provides short-term pain relief for lateral epicondyle pain, and they have found promising evidence.


When acupuncture is performed by an experienced practitioner using sterile needles, it is considered to be generally safe. Relatively few complications have been reported from acupuncture. Infections and punctured organs are some of the serious but rare adverse events that are related to acupuncture. Moreover, the adverse effects that are associated with acupuncture are fewer than those associated with many standard drug treatments, such as steroid injections and anti-inflammatory medications that are used to manage painful musculoskeletal conditions including the ones mentioned above.


Prepared By: Dr. Mehyar Al-Khashroum
Edited By: Miss Araz Kahvedjian

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