Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment - Acupuncture Close-up

Acupuncture: Is It Right for You?

Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, and in recent years has gained popularity in the United States. Health care providers and patients are looking for alternatives to drugs and traditional medicines for conditions like chronic pain, insomnia, migraines and more.

Acupuncture is most commonly used to manage pain, such as neck, back, knee or joint pain, but it may be useful for treating other conditions as well.

If you’re looking for a low-risk alternative to pain medication or additional treatment for a health condition such as headaches or joint pain, check out the information below on acupuncture to see if it’s right for you.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a technique in which a practitioner inserts thin needles into your skin to treat certain health problems.Acupuncture originated thousands of years ago from ancient Chinese medicine, which teaches that you have energy channels in your body called meridians. Each meridian is related to a specific organ in your body and placing needles along these points can cause certain reactions in the body, including allowing muscles to relax, reducing tension, stimulating nerves and improving the flow of energy throughout your body.

Why Do People Use Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is most commonly used to manage pain, such as neck, back, knee or joint pain, but it may be useful for treating other conditions as well.

A young woman is sitting on the sofa at home with her head in her hands.Studies done by the National Institutes of Health have found acupuncture to have some effect on the following conditions:

  • Symptoms associated with cancer treatment
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hypertension
  • Migraines
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Morning sickness
  • Post-stroke recovery

Research by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has also shown that acupuncture can have a positive effect on several pain conditions, including chronic pain and headaches, mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression, as well as other health conditions such as insomnia. In particular, research from VA has shown that Battlefield Acupuncture may help Veterans treat pain. This is a type of acupuncture in which needles are placed on several specified points on each ear. Learn more about the benefits and challenges of this type of acupuncture if you’re looking for an alternative to opioids or other medications.

What Can I Expect During an Acupuncture Session?

Each experience with acupuncture will be unique to you and your health concerns, but you can expect certain things from your session. Nurse doing in home consultation with senior man.

  • The session often begins with a medical exam, where you and the acupuncturist go over your areas of concern, the issues you’re experiencing and what you hope to get out of the treatment.
  • Based on what is learned during the medical exam, the acupuncturist will determine how many needles to use and where to place them. The needles are thin and flexible, not like the needles used for getting your blood drawn, and they’re inserted into the body at designated acupuncture points to affect some kind of change.
  • The treatment may last between 20-30 minutes. During the treatment, the needles may be manipulated with gentle movements by the practitioner’s hands or may be stimulated with small electrical currents. Often calming music plays while you receive treatment.
  • Relief can come in one treatment, but it usually takes a series of sessions to make an impact on your health and wellness.

What Should I Consider Before Trying Acupuncture?

  • Discuss acupuncture with your health care provider before you begin treatment. Acupuncture is not for everyone or every condition, so it’s important to have an open, honest conversation with your health care provider about your health concerns, what medications you’re currently using and any other information you think is relevant. Together you can decide if acupuncture is a good treatment for you.
  • Find someone who is licensed or certified to practice acupuncture. You don’t have to be a medical doctor to practice acupuncture, but most states have established training standards and certification requirements for practitioners to receive a license. Ask your health care provider for a good recommendation and do your own research as well.
  • Check in with your insurance provider. More and more insurance plans are covering acupuncture as a part of a person’s health care benefit, but you should make sure to explore the cost before you begin a treatment plan. For example, acupuncture is one of the complementary and integrative health approaches within VA and is a covered treatment when determined clinically necessary.
  • Don’t use acupuncture to avoid other necessary treatments. If you and your health care provider have worked out a treatment plan for a health condition, be sure to keep up with it. Acupuncture can be a great supplement to other care, but it should not be used as a replacement for treatment your provider believes is necessary.


Acupuncture is gaining popularity as a low-risk alternative to pain medications and traditional treatments. Talk to your health care provider to see if you may benefit from it.

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