Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been practiced for centuries. It's based on the theory that energy, called chi (say "chee"), flows through and around your body along pathways called meridians.
Acupuncturists believe that illness occurs when something blocks or unbalances your chi. Acupuncture is a way to unblock or influence chi and help it flow back into balance.
Acupuncture is done by putting very thin needles into your skin at certain points on your body. This is done to influence the energy flow. Sometimes heat, pressure, or mild electrical current is used along with needles.
Some people use acupuncture to relieve pain, such as low back pain, or to manage chronic pain from osteoarthritis, headaches, or neck problems. There is some evidence that acupuncture may help to treat pain. But in most cases the studies have been too small to clearly show a benefit.
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.
Current as of: March 17, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen M. Fairfield MD, MPH, DrPH - Internal Medicine