Acupunture for chronic pain(taken from

Acupuncture may sound like an exotic—maybe even improbable—treatment for chronic pain. But this age-old Chinese medical practice has been increasingly accepted in this country as an alternative treatment for low back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis, and is now covered by some American insurance companies.

By Kirsten M. Lagatree

Although acupuncture, a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), is one of the oldest healing arts in the world, it was not recognized by the English-speaking world, nor was it regulated in the US, until journalist James Reston returned from China and wrote about his experience in a New York Times article, “Now, About My Operation in Peking” July 26, 1971.

Since that time, more and more Americans—and their physicians—have been finding acupuncture a useful tool, especially for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis/knee pain, and headaches, including migraines. Acupuncture also shows promise as a complementary therapy to control symptoms in the treatment of cancer. In fact, Western doctors have used acupuncture to treat the pain, fatigue, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture (a branch of traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM) is a practice 3,500 years older than traditional Western medicine. It works by applying needles, heat, and pressure to specific points on the body. The theory is that invigorating these points releases or redirects the body’s natural energy known as chi or qi because illness and pain come from blockages or imbalances of this vital life force.

Does It Work?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a number of studies suggest that acupuncture works particularly well on chronic pain such as back and neck pain; osteoarthritis/knee pain; and headache. It often reduces the incidence and severity of tension headaches and may prevent migraines. “Therefore,” the NIH concludes, “acupuncture appears to be a reasonable option for people with chronic pain to consider.”

A review article that appeared in Practical Pain Management found that pain relief with acupuncture comes from inactivating the source of pain by modulating endorphin levels. These authors also reported on the benefits of acupuncture for temporomadibular joint disorder (TMD).

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Often patients will see their acupuncturist on a regular basis, simply to maintain a feeling of general well being. Despite the fact that the procedure is performed by inserting hair-thin needles into various parts of the body, acupuncture is considered non-invasive and gentle.

Sara Calabro, acupuncturist and founder of AcuTake, a website with a directory of acupuncturists, wrote a tongue-in-cheek article for The Huffington Post about the “side effects” of acupuncture and listed them as “better sleep, more energy, mental clarity, better digestion, and less stress.”