Acupuncture, a well-known ancient Chinese practice, involves inserting extremely thin needles into a patient’s skin at strategic points. It is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is a healing technique that helps individuals manage various health concerns.

While this technique has been criticized for not having any basis in scientific evidence-based knowledge, acupuncture is still widely recognized as an effective “alternative” treatment for chronic pain management. A 2012 study concluded that stimulated acupuncture could effectively treat four chronic pain conditions: neck pain, shoulder pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache.

Here’s an overview of what acupuncture is, how it works, and its benefits and potential side effects.


What Is Acupuncture?

According to Chinese medicine, there are more than 2,000 acupuncture points in the human body connected by pathways called meridian lines. Through these pathways, Qi (pronounced as “chee”), the life force energy responsible for our overall health, flows through the body.

It is believed that any disruption in the flow of Qi can cause illness. When acupuncture is applied to specific body parts where Qi is most prominent, it improves the Qi flow.

Depending on the country where the procedure is being performed in, acupuncture practitioners may follow different techniques and have different schools of thought. There are, however, two main approaches — the first is a modern standardized version based on eight principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and the second is a comparatively older system based on the ancient Taoist Wuxing, commonly known as the Five Phases.


What Health Concerns Can Acupuncture Help With?

Acupuncture is mainly done to relieve pain and discomfort, such as:

  •       Dental pain
  •       Neck pain
  •       Menstrual cramps
  •       Respiratory disorders
  •       Lower back pain
  •       Headaches (migraines)
  •       Fibromyalgia
  •       Muscle cramping
  •       Irritable bladder
  •       Allergic rhinitis

While chronic pain is the most common form of ailment that acupuncture can relieve, it has also been proven to help digestive, emotional, gynecological, musculoskeletal, neurological, and respiratory issues.

How Can You Prepare for Acupuncture?

Although no specific preparation is required before an acupuncture procedure, you should always ensure the acupuncture practitioner has the necessary credentials and experience.

Acupuncture practitioners are often required to pass an exam conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

It is also recommended that you discuss with your physician why you are considering acupuncture, so they can tell you whether the treatment will be effective for your condition.


How Does Acupuncture Work?

A study conducted in 2017 suggested that the acupuncture points mentioned in Traditional Chinese Medicine are situated on stimulation sites called peripheral receptive fields that affect the activity of multiple sensory neurons.

When very fine needles are inserted at these receptive sites or fields, the central nervous system responds to the pain by relaxing muscles and increasing the blood flow to those parts of the body in pain, thus helping alleviate the pain.


What Happens During the Procedure?

During the first consultation, you can discuss the issues you want to target with the acupuncture practitioner. The practitioner may ask you a few questions about your lifestyle and health and check your pulse and tongue.

The acupuncture practitioner will then guide you through the whole procedure. It is advised that you inform the practitioner if you feel any pain or discomfort time during the process.

Depending on where the process will be done, you may or may not have to remove your clothing. A towel, sheet, or gown will be provided to you, and you will be asked to lie down on a padded table. Typically between five to twenty needles are used during the course of treatment which involves the following three steps:

1. Insertion of Needles

Since the needles are very thin, you may not even feel them piercing your skin. But you may feel a slight discomfort. These needles are inserted to specific depths at particular pain points in your body. Once the needle reaches a certain depth, you can expect a mild aching sensation.

2. Manipulation of Needles

At times, the practitioner might gently reposition or move the needles or even apply heat or mild electric pulses when required.

3. Removal of Needles

The procedure lasts for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, sometimes longer depending on the treatment. Once the procedure is complete, the needles are gently removed while you remain still and relax on the table. Generally, people do not feel any discomfort at this point, but if you do, let your practitioner know right away.


Benefits Of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is considered an “alternative” treatment and is often recommended as a complementary process to other treatments. Therefore, it is hard to measure the precise benefits of this procedure. But those who have gone through the procedure have attested to feeling relaxed, with many asserting that they felt significant relief from the pain they were experiencing before.

Studies show that acupuncture helps in the following ways:

  •       Reduces stress
  •       Reduces joint and back pain
  •       Improves immunity
  •       Increases energy and mental clarity
  •       Improves digestion


What Are The Risks?

Acupuncture is generally very safe with little to no risks involved.

However, some common side effects that people have reported are soreness, bruising, and minor bleeding where the needle was inserted. A needle break can cause severe damage, but this is very rare.

To prevent such risks, ensure you get the procedure done by a certified and experienced professional and that the needles used are sterile.

Who Should Not Get Acupuncture:

  •       Young children
  •       Individuals on blood thinner medication
  •       Individuals with pacemakers (the needles will carry mild electric pulses that may interfere with the pacemaker)
  •       Individuals with compromised immunity
  •       Individuals with low blood sugar or low blood pressure
  •       Pregnant women



This ancient healing technique has been around for a thousand years, but we are only just uncovering its potential benefits. Acupuncture is generally considered a safe practice and offers several health benefits. Given that it has very few side effects, it is worth a try for people finding it difficult to control pain using more conventional treatment methods.