Acupuncture is one of the most popular and in-vogue forms of alternative medicine. In this practice, thin needles are inserted through the skin into the body at various points. Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, though techniques vary depending on the country. In the United States, acupuncture is most often used for pain relief, but it is also applied to treat a wide range of other conditions. Acupuncture has little scientific support and is often only used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. While some research suggests the acupuncture can alleviate pain, the majority of research suggests that its effects are mainly due to the placebo effect.
Increasingly, acupuncture is being used for overall wellness and stress management. Traditional Chinese medicine explains acupuncture as a technique for balancing the flow of energy—known as qi (chi)–believed to travel through pathways within the body. Inserting needles into specific points along these meridians is said to balance the flow of energy. However, many Western practitioners of acupuncture view these points as places to stimulate nerves, muscles, and connective tissue.
Acupuncture is used to relief discomfort associated with a variety of diseases and conditions. This can include anything from chemotherapy-induced nausea and labor pain to dental aches and menstrual cramps. Acupuncture is generally safe when performed by a trained practitioner using clean, single-use needles. When properly delivered, it has a low rate of mostly minor adverse effects, and most accidents and infections are associate with practitioner neglect. However, individuals may be at risk for complications if they have a bleeding disorder, have a pacemaker, or are pregnant.
In traditional acupuncture, the practitioner decides which points to treat by observing and questioning the patient. There are also several related practices, including acupressure, moxibustion, and cupping therapy, most of which are common in traditional Chinese medicine.