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Acupuncture - Topic Overview

What is acupuncture used for?

People use acupuncture to relieve pain and treat certain health conditions. You can use it by itself or as part of a treatment program. Studies have found promising results for the use of acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy, chemotherapy, and postsurgery pain. Acupuncture also may be useful for:

  • Stroke rehabilitationStroke rehabilitation, which involves relearning skills that a person lost because of brain damage from a stroke.
  • Headache.
  • Menstrual cramps.
  • Tennis elbowTennis elbow.
  • FibromyalgiaFibromyalgia, or widespread pain and tenderness of muscle and soft tissue.
  • Myofascial painMyofascial pain, caused by spasm in the muscles.
  • Low back pain. For people who have low back pain, acupuncture may help decrease pain and increase activity. Some studies show that acupuncture reduced pain and disability related to back problems more than usual treatment.1, 2
  • Carpal tunnel syndromeCarpal tunnel syndrome, or pressure on a nerve in the wrist that results in tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain of the fingers and hand.
  • AsthmaAsthma, or inflammation in the tubes that carry air to the lungs, resulting in periodic episodes of difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing.
  • Drug addictionDrug addiction. Acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of withdrawal after a person stops taking a drug he or she is addicted to. It may also help prevent a relapse. More studies are needed to learn about the benefits of acupuncture.
  • Dental pain.
  • Labor pain.

Is acupuncture safe?

In general, acupuncture is safe when done by a certified provider. A state license ensures that the provider has a certain level of training and follows certain guidelines. But there are still a few states where acupuncture is not licensed.

In very rare cases, problems may occur after acupuncture. You could get an infection, especially if the needles aren't sterile. But licensed providers throw away their needles after one use. Make sure your provider uses a new pack of sterile needles every time.

Talk with your doctor if you have other questions about the safety of acupuncture. Always tell your doctor if you are using a treatment like acupuncture.

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