Acupuncture is an ancient therapy that involves stimulating points on the body called meridians with fine needles or by applying electric currents or heat.
Acupuncture originated in China over 2,000 years ago as part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). In TCM, it's believed that disease is caused by an imbalanced or blocked flow of energy. Acupuncture is thought to stimulate energy flow, unblock energy, and rebalance energy, which results in healing.
People most commonly use acupuncture for pain-related conditions, depression, nausea, and sleeping problems. It is also used for addictions, several mental disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson disease and cerebral palsy, and many other purposes, but there is no good scientific evidence to support many of these uses.
Is It Effective?
Natural Medicines rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
- Back pain. Acupuncture seems to reduce back pain better than no treatment at all. At least 5 sessions seem to be the most helpful for long-term relief. But it's not clear if acupuncture is any better than sham acupuncture.
- Nausea and vomiting caused by cancer drug treatment. Using electroacupuncture along with anti-nausea medications seems to reduce vomiting right after chemotherapy better than taking anti-nausea medications alone.
- Tiredness in people with cancer. Using acupuncture or electroacupuncture seems to help improve symptoms in people experiencing fatigue after cancer treatment.
- Pain in people with cancer. Using acupuncture or electroacupuncture seems to help improve cancer-related pain, especially in adults who cannot tolerate other pain treatments.
- Depression. Using acupuncture along with conventional antidepressants seems to reduce symptoms in people with mild-to-moderate depression. It is unclear if using acupuncture alone would be helpful.
- Indigestion (dyspepsia). Acupuncture seems to help reduce indigestion. It might even work as well as or better than certain drugs.
- Fibromyalgia. Acupuncture seems to reduce fatigue, anxiety, and pain in people with fibromyalgia.
- Insomnia. Acupuncture using needles seems to improve sleep quality in people with insomnia. Electroacupuncture doesn't seem to help.
- Labor pain. Receiving acupuncture during labor seems to reduce labor pain.
- Migraine. Acupuncture seems to help prevent migraine headaches. But it's not clear if it helps treat migraines.
- Neck pain. Using acupuncture alone or along with pain-relieving medicine seems to help reduce neck pain.
- Osteoarthritis. Acupuncture seems to reduce pain and improve mobility in people with knee or hip osteoarthritis.
- Nausea and vomiting after surgery. Acupuncture helps reduce nausea and vomiting in adults and children after surgery. It might work as well as conventional medicines.
- Tension headache. Acupuncture seems to help relieve tension headache. But other treatments such as physical therapy might work better.
- Asthma. Acupuncture doesn't improve asthma symptoms or lung function.
- Nerve damage in the hands and feet of people with HIV/AIDS. Acupuncture doesn't seem to reduce nerve pain in people with HIV/AIDS.
- Inability to become pregnant within a year of trying to conceive (infertility). Acupuncture doesn't seem to increase the rate of pregnancy or successful births following in vitro fertilization (IVF) or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
- Morning sickness. Acupuncture doesn't seem to reduce nausea and vomiting during pregnancy in most patients. But it might help those who have very severe nausea and vomiting.
- Quitting smoking. Acupuncture does not seem to help people quit smoking.
There is interest in using acupuncture for a number of other purposes, but there isn't enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful.
Is it Safe?
Acupuncture is likely safe when given appropriately and with sterile needles. Side effects are uncommon but might include bruising and swelling. Inappropriate use of acupuncture needles can cause serious side effects including infections.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Traditional acupuncture with sterile needles is possibly safe when used appropriately when pregnant or breast-feeding. But there might be certain acupuncture points that should be avoided during pregnancy. Also, there isn't enough reliable information to know if electroacupuncture or laser acupuncture is safe when pregnant. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Children. Acupuncture is possibly safe in children. It's been used in research without any serious side effects.
It is not known if this treatment interacts with any medicines. Before using this treatment, talk with your health professional if you take any medications.
There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.
There are no known interactions with foods.
Many different styles of acupuncture exist, including traditional acupuncture, Western acupuncture, electroacupuncture, and laser acupuncture. The appropriate or safe use of acupuncture depends on several factors such as the condition being treated or the person administering the treatment. Be sure to seek and follow relevant directions from your physician or other healthcare professional before using this treatment.
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