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Other Names:

Acuponcture, Acuponcture Auriculaire, Acuponcture Chinoise, Acuponcture Coreenne, Acuponcture Japonaise, Acuponcture de la Main, Acuponcture Occidentale, Acuponcture de l'Oreille, Acuponcture du Pied, Acupuntura, Auricular Acupuncture, Chinese A...
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ACUPUNCTURE Interactions
ACUPUNCTURE Overview Information

Acupuncture is an ancient method of treatment that began in China as a part of traditional Chinese medicine.

Acupuncture is used for pain, including low back pain, labor pain, jaw pain due to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), nerve pain (neuropathy), and shoulder pain; as well as pain due to cancer, migraine headache, and osteoarthritis.

Acupuncture is also used for depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping (insomnia), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), vomiting associated with cancer treatment, stroke, bed-wetting, poor control of urination (incontinence), dry mouth, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and many other conditions.

Some people also use acupuncture to break addictions including smoking and cocaine-dependence.

How does it work?

Acupuncture is a treatment method used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Acupuncture treatment involves inserting fine needles into specific parts or points on the body along pathways called “meridians.” The purpose is to stimulate points that correspond to specific organs, emotions, or sensory feelings. For example, acupuncture around the ear, feet, and hands targets the pain of labor.

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is thought that disease is caused by an imbalanced or blocked flow of energy or “qi.” Therefore, acupuncture is thought to stimulate energy flow, unblock energy, and rebalance energy, which results in healing.

Most acupuncture points are located near nerves. Researchers suggest that inserting an acupuncture needle at these points may block pain signals.

Some experts also think that acupuncture might release natural chemicals called endorphins or opioids, which naturally reduce pain.

For depression and other mental conditions, acupuncture is thought to stimulate chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that allow nerve cells to communicate. Some researchers believe that acupuncture might increase the production and release of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that play a big role in depression.

ACUPUNCTURE Uses & Effectiveness What is this?

Possibly Effective for:

  • Nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatment that uses chemicals (chemotherapy). Anti-nausea medications seem to prevent vomiting right after chemotherapy more effectively when acupuncture is also used. But acupuncture doesn’t seem to help immediate or delayed nausea.
  • Labor pain. Pregnant women receiving acupuncture during labor seem to need less help for pain.
  • Osteoarthritis. There is evidence that acupuncture significantly reduces pain in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee.
  • Back pain.

Insufficient Evidence for:

  • Bed-wetting. There is some evidence that acupuncture might help bed-wetting in children.
  • Cancer-related pain. Developing research shows that acupuncture can reduce pain in cancer patients.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Early research suggests that acupuncture can improve shortness of breath and walking without shortness of breath in people with this lung condition.
  • Cocaine dependence. Developing research shows that ear acupuncture doesn’t seem to reduce cocaine use in cocaine addicts.
  • Depression. There is some evidence that acupuncture can reduce symptoms of depression in people with mild-to-moderate depression. Some research even concludes acupuncture works about as well as medications for depression. But these results have been criticized because of the small number of people involved in the study and because of other study design problems.
  • Schizophrenia. Some research shows that acupuncture used along with usual medications for schizophrenia might improve some symptoms. But the small number of people involved in the research limits the reliability of these findings.
  • Shoulder pain. Some studies show that acupuncture can significantly reduce shoulder pain in spinal cord injury patients who use wheelchairs. But patients who received “sham treatment,” treatment known not to be effective, also reported less pain. This response may be due to “the placebo effect,” the tendency of some people to feel better because they want to believe the treatment they received worked. The similarity of improvements between the two groups—patients receiving acupuncture and patients receiving sham treatment—suggests that acupuncture might not be responsible for reducing pain.
  • Smoking cessation. Developing research suggests that acupuncture does not significantly improve long-term stop-smoking rates.
  • Stroke. There is some evidence that acupuncture following the type of stroke that is caused by a blood clot in the brain (ischemic stroke) is associated with a somewhat reduced risk of death, disability, and institutional care after 3 months. It’s less clear how well acupuncture works in stroke rehabilitation. This is the process stroke patients undergo to try to regain some of the abilities they lost because of the stroke. Bigger studies involving more people are needed to measure the effectiveness of acupuncture on stroke rehabilitation.
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). Some research suggests that acupuncture can significantly reduce pain and other symptoms of TMJ; but some experts question these results because the research didn’t rule out “the placebo effect.” Sometimes people feel better because they have received some kind of treatment. The treatment itself might be ineffective but people feel better because they believe it worked. This reaction is known as “the placebo effect.”
  • Anxiety.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Migraine headache.
  • Nerve pain.
  • Poor bladder control (incontinence).
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia).
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of acupuncture for these uses.

ACUPUNCTURE Side Effects & Safety

Acupuncture is safe when used appropriately. Side effects are generally rare, but can include dizziness, nausea and vomiting, pain, fainting, and infection of the needle insertion points.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Acupuncture seems to be safe in pregnant and breast-feeding women when used appropriately. Researchers who studied the effects of acupuncture on labor pain reported no harm or serious side effects among the women participating in the study.

ACUPUNCTURE Interactions What is this?

We currently have no information for ACUPUNCTURE Interactions


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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Conditions of Use and Important Information: This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor or health care professional before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your health care plan or treatment and to determine what course of therapy is right for you.

This copyrighted material is provided by Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Consumer Version. Information from this source is evidence-based and objective, and without commercial influence. For professional medical information on natural medicines, see Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Professional Version. © Therapeutic Research Faculty 2009.

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