The term “acupuncture” describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of points on the body using a variety of techniques. The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation. Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine.

Acupuncture goes mainstream in the United States. Although millions of Americans use acupuncture each year, often for chronic pain, there has been considerable controversy surrounding its value as a therapy and whether it is anything more than placebo. Research exploring a number of possible mechanisms for acupuncture’s pain-relieving effects is ongoing.

How much do we know about acupuncture?

There have been extensive studies conducted on acupuncture, especially for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis/knee pain, and headache. However, researchers are only beginning to understand whether acupuncture can be helpful for various health conditions.

How effective is it?

Research suggests that acupuncture can help manage certain pain conditions, but evidence about its value for other health issues is uncertain.

Is it safe?

In the US acupuncturists are licensed by the regulatory commission of each state. Acupuncture is considered safe when performed by an experienced, well-trained practitioner using sterile needles. Improperly performed acupuncture can cause serious side effects.



  • McKee, M.D., Kligler, B., Blank, A.E., Flectcher, J., Jeffres, A., Casalaina, W., & Biryukov F. (2012) The ADDOPT Study (Acupuncture to Decrese Disparities in Pain Treatment). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 18(9): 839-843.

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