Acupuncture for Chronic Pain Relief

Woman receiving acupuncture for back pain.
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Long practiced in traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is an alternative therapy that involves using needles to stimulate specific points on the body. These points are said to connect with certain pathways (or "meridians") that carry vital energy (or "chi") throughout the body.

According to the theory of acupuncture, blockages in the flow of chi disrupt well-being and lead to illness. By stimulating acupuncture points, practitioners aim to clear up blockages and restore the client's health and vitality.

Acupuncture for Pain

Pain or musculoskeletal complaints account for seven of the top ten conditions for which individuals use acupuncture, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that acupuncture appears to be a promising alternative for some pain conditions, but cautions that further research is needed before conclusions about acupuncture's effectiveness can be drawn.

Here's a look at pain conditions that have been shown to improve with the use of acupuncture:

1) Migraines and Headaches

A research review published in 2009 suggests that acupuncture is at least as effective as, or possibly more effective than, medication in protecting against migraines, while another review from the same year shows that acupuncture may be beneficial for people with frequent episodic or chronic tension headaches.

2) Arthritis

Research indicates that acupuncture may be useful for people with osteoarthritis (especially osteoarthritis of the knee). In a 2007 review and meta-analysis, for instance, researchers concluded that acupuncture administered in an intensive two- to four-week treatment regimen may offer significant short-term relief of osteoarthritis-related knee pain.

3) Low Back Pain

In a 2009 study of 638 adults with chronic low back pain, participants undergoing 10 acupuncture sessions (administered over the course of seven weeks) had greater improvement in symptoms than those who received standard care. One year after treatment, study members in the acupuncture group were also more likely to show significant improvements in dysfunction.

A meta-analysis of 33 clinical trials, published in 2005, concluded that acupuncture effectively relieves chronic low back pain. However, the review's authors note that "no evidence suggests that acupuncture is more effective than other active therapies."

More on Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Emerging evidence suggests that people with the following conditions may also benefit from the use of acupuncture:


Acupuncture is generally considered safe, and adverse events are rare. Additionally, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that "there are fewer adverse effects associated with acupuncture than with many standard drug treatments (such as anti-inflammatory medication and steroid injections) used to manage painful musculoskeletal conditions."

Using Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend acupuncture as a standard treatment for pain relief. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using acupuncture, make sure to consult your physician first.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstance or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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Article Sources

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