What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a technique in which practitioners stimulate specific points on the body—most often by inserting thin needles through the skin. It is one of the practices used in traditional Chinese medicine.

What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Acupuncture

Results from a number of studies suggest that acupuncture may help ease types of pain that are often chronic such as low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches. Therefore, acupuncture appears to be a reasonable option for people with chronic pain to consider. However, clinical practice guidelines are inconsistent in recommendations about acupuncture.

The effects of acupuncture on the brain and body and how best to measure them are only beginning to be understood. Current evidence suggests that many factors—like expectation and belief—that are unrelated to acupuncture needling may play important roles in the beneficial effects of acupuncture on pain.

 

What the Science Says About Safety and Side Effects of Acupuncture

  • Relatively few complications from using acupuncture have been reported. Still, complications have resulted from use of nonsterile needles and improper delivery of treatments.
  • When not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, including infections, punctured organs, collapsed lungs, and injury to the central nervous system.

NCCIH-Funded Research

NCCIH funds research to evaluate acupuncture’s effectiveness for various kinds of pain and other conditions, and to further understand how the body responds to acupuncture and how acupuncture might work. Some recent NCCIH-supported studies are looking at:

  • If acupuncture can reduce the frequency of hot flashes associated with menopause
  • Whether acupuncture can reduce pain and discomfort that may accompany chemotherapy
  • Objectively determining if actual acupuncture is more effective than simulated acupuncture or usual care for pain relief, and (if so) by how much.

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