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FAQ's - Frequently Asked Questions

General Q & A About Acupuncture, with statements from National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM.

On this page:

"I had chronic low back pain for several years with a huge visible knot in the area. After several months of treatment with Shannon the knot went away and I felt a dramatic improvement in the pain. I continue to see Shannon for acupuncture and massage because I like the deep relaxation I get from the treatments. Now I'm virtually pain free and overall much happier in my life."

- Sandy K. of Pittsford

Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world. As part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a whole medical system that originated in China /Tibet region. It is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of qi and imbalance in the forces of yin and yang. Practices such as herbs, meditation, massage, and acupuncture seek to aid healing by restoring the yin-yang balance and the flow of qi in the body.

Acupuncture is a family of procedures that treat imbalances in the body by stimulating points along the meridians system, (rivers of energy traversing the body) on the body by a variety of techniques, including the use of pressure, heat and the insertion of thin metal needles though the skin. It is intended to remove blockages in the flow of qi and restore and maintain health.

The Society of Integrative Oncology rates acupuncture as "A1" , being both safe and effective treatment for a list of conditions. Acupuncture is recognized as complementary medicine, used together with conventional medicine. This is a distinction from alternative medicine which implies to abandoning the methods of conventional medicine.

Key Points

  • Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years. In Japan, China and Korea, acupuncture is part of mainstream medicine.
  • Scientists are studying the efficacy of acupuncture for a wide range of conditions.
  • Relatively few complications have been reported from the use of acupuncture. However, acupuncture can cause potentially serious side effects if not delivered properly by a qualified practitioner.
  • Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

About Acupuncture

Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of traditional Chinese medicine. In TCM, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing and inseparable forces: yin and yang.

Yin represents the cold, slow, or passive principle, while yang represents the hot, excited, or active principle. According to TCM, health is achieved by maintaining the body in a "balanced state"; disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang. This imbalance leads to blockage in the flow of qi. In traditional Chinese medicine, the qi or vital energy regulates a person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health. Thereby, balancing the qi in the body impacts the health of both body and mind.

Meridians: Sources vary on the number of meridians, with numbers ranging from 14 to 20. One commonly cited source describes meridians as 14 main channels "connecting the body in a web like interconnecting matrix" of at least 2,000 acupuncture points.

Acupuncture Use in the United States

The report from a Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997 stated that acupuncture is being "widely" practiced-by thousands of physicians, dentists, acupuncturists, and other practitioners-for relief or prevention of pain and for various other health conditions. According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey-the largest and most comprehensive survey of use by American adults to date-an estimated 8.2 million U.S. adults have used acupuncture.

Acupuncture Side Effects and Risks

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners, requiring that needles be manufactured and labeled according to certain standards. For example, the FDA requires that needles be sterile, nontoxic, and labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.

Relatively few complications from the use of acupuncture have been reported to the FDA, in light of the millions of people treated each year and the number of acupuncture needles used. When not delivered properly, acupuncture can cause serious adverse effects, including infections and punctured organs.

Status of Acupuncture Research

There have been many studies on acupuncture's potential health benefits for a wide range of conditions. Summarizing earlier research, the 1997 NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture found that, overall, results were hard to interpret because of problems with the size and design of the studies.

In the years since the Consensus Statement was issued, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has funded extensive research to advance scientific understanding of acupuncture. Some recent NCCAM-supported studies have looked at:

  • Whether acupuncture works for specific health conditions such as chronic low-back pain, headache, and osteoarthritis of the knee
  • How acupuncture might work, such as what happens in the brain during acupuncture treatment (Functional MRI studies).
  • Ways to better identify and understand the potential neurological properties of meridians and acupuncture points
  • Methods and instruments for improving the quality of acupuncture research

Finding a Qualified Practitioner

Health care providers can be a resource for referral to acupuncturists, and some conventional medical practitioners. In addition, national acupuncture organizations (which can be found through libraries or Web search engines) may provide referrals to acupuncturists.

  • Check a practitioner's credentials. Most states require a license to practice acupuncture; however, education and training standards and requirements for obtaining a license to practice vary from state to state. Although a license does not ensure quality of care, it does indicate that the practitioner meets certain standards regarding the knowledge and use of acupuncture.

What To Expect from Acupuncture Visits

During your first office visit, the practitioner may ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. The practitioner will want to obtain a complete picture of your treatment needs and behaviors that may contribute to your condition. Inform the acupuncturist about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have.

Root and branch of disease: The acupuncturist will ask questions and make observations to decipher the imbalances of qi that are leading to the patient's symptoms. The prescription of acupuncture points will address the patient's symptoms "branch" and the "root" of the imbalance, or the origin of the pathology. By addressing the branch, or symptoms alone, the pathology will likely reemerge in a related condition. Acupuncture treatments address the root of the cause, changing the energetic origin of the pathology.

During treatment, a patient rests very fine needles in place for 25-40 minutes. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain, as the needles are inserted. Some people feel energized by treatment, while most others feel relaxed. Many patients fall asleep during treatment.

Treatment may take place over a period of several weeks, once or twice a week. Many conditions will feel some results after 6-10 treatments. Conditions experienced over a longer period of time in general, take a longer to resolve than those conditions more recently acquired. Some patients seek acupuncture after they have been unsuccessful finding relief from a long list of other modalities. The acupuncturist frequently treats patients frustrated by their chronic conditions with success if the patient dedicates themselves to making some lifestyle changes and following up with acupuncture treatments.

Treatment Costs

Ask the practitioner about the estimated number of treatments needed and how much each treatment will cost. Some insurance companies may cover the costs of acupuncture, while others may not. It is important to check with your insurer. Charges for acupuncture treatments around the USA, range from $50. to $160. per session.

Related Topics


  1. Acupuncture. Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed at on June 28, 2007.
  2. Barnes PM, Powell-Griner E, McFann K, Nahin RL. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults: United States, 2002. CDC Advance Data Report #343. 2004.
  3. Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, et al. Effectiveness of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004;141(12):901-910.
  4. Eisenberg DM, Cohen MH, Hrbek A, et al. Credentialing complementary and alternative medical providers. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2002;137(12):965-973.
  5. Ernst E. Acupuncture-a critical analysis. Journal of Internal Medicine. 2006;259(2):125-137.
  6. Kaptchuk, TJ. Acupuncture: theory, efficacy, and practice. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2002;136(5):374-383.
  7. Lao L. Safety issues in acupuncture. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1996;2(1):27-31.
  8. MacPherson H, Thomas K. Short-term reactions to acupuncture-a cross-sectional survey of patient reports. Acupuncture in Medicine. 2005;23(3):112-120.
  9. National Cancer Institute. Acupuncture (PDQ). National Cancer Institute Web site. Accessed at on August 16, 2007.
  10. National Institutes of Health Consensus Panel. Acupuncture: National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference Statement. National Institutes of Health Web site. Accessed at on June 22, 2007.
  11. Reston J. Now, about my operation in Peking; Now, let me tell you about my appendectomy in Peking…. New York Times. July 26, 1971:1.
  12. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Acupuncture needles no longer investigational. FDA Consumer. 1996;30(5). Also available at


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"CA patients spend on average $500 per year on alternative therapy treatment."

- Kaiser P.H.C., Lydia Segal, MD
(This figure is closer to $1800 per year by some accounts.)