Acupuncture: Tiny Needles Take on Big Problems

To some, just the thought of needles sends them running in the opposite direction. But if you’re not one of those people, acupuncture may be just what the doctor ordered for chronic pain, headaches, insomnia and more.

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy that balances the body’s energy, known as qi. This energy travels through various energy pathways or meridians throughout the body.

When practiced by a licensed, experienced practitioner, acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy for numerous health issues.

Practitioners insert tiny stainless-steel needles into specific points called acupoints along the meridians to help rebalance the flow of qi, ultimately working to restore overall health. Specific spots work to ease pain and discomfort to specific areas of the body.

Acupoints release certain chemicals when stimulated, which can prompt an immune response and may help limit the symptoms of health ailments.

When a needle is inserted, it penetrates the fascia, a richly innervated type of connective tissue that wraps around all of your muscles and organs. Your body senses a change and responds by sending blood, lymph fluid and other nutrients to help the stimulated area to heal.

One study found that more than half of people with frequent tension headaches who received acupuncture reported a 50% reduction in the number of days they had headaches. Those who received painkillers and other routine care reported just 16% fewer headaches.

There is evidence of positive effects from acupuncture for chronic low back pain, knee pain from osteoarthritis, migraines, asthma, chemotherapy-induced nausea and seasonal allergies, just to name a few. Some people have even used acupuncture for weight loss.

And the good news is that the benefits may last longer than a painkiller.

A study in 2017 found that the majority of 18,000 patients treated with acupuncture for chronic pain still had pain-reducing effects more than 12 months after the initial treatment.