by Nicole Berardoni M.D, Paul Lynch M.D, and Tory McJunkin M.D

Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that was originally started in China over 2000 years ago and is quickly gaining acceptance and popularity by Western Medicine for the treatment of many conditions (Facco 2007). Research continues to explore the use of this procedure in the treatment of many chronic pain conditions. Common conditions successfully treated by the procedure include:

  • Osteoarthritis (Berman 2004)
  • Low Back Pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Migraine Headaches (Facco 2007)
  • Fibromyalgia (Mayo Clinic 2006)
  • Postoperative Pain
  • Chemotherapy Induced Nausea
  • Menstrual Cramps
  • Periodontitis (Wu 2007)
  • Other Pain Conditions


In the United States, two types of medical professionals are performing this treatment: (1) Medical Doctors – Some physicians offer it as adjunctive therapy to their patients. Most states require that these doctors have 200 to 300 hours of acupuncture training in addition to their medical training. (2) Alternative Providers – To obtain certification, these professionals typically complete 2,000 to 3,000 hours of training and successfully complete board examinations conducted by a national acupuncture accreditation agency. On your initial visit, you can expect provide a thorough history and perform a targeted physical exam. They will also discuss your diagnosis and the expected outcome of treatment. Sterilized, fine stainless steel needles are used during treatment. You may feel a brief, sharp sensation when the needle is first inserted, but typically pain is not a sensation felt. The slight sharp feeling you experience when the needle is inserted is typically more comfortable than the prick you feel during an injection because of the needles fine caliber. Several needles are placed in multiple stimulating locations and the needles are sometimes moved gently or stimulated with electricity to enhance their effect. You may feel heaviness, numbness, or tingling after the needles have been inserted. The needles usually stay in place for fifteen to thirty minutes and a typical session lasts about an hour. After your treatment you are able to return to your normal activity directly afterwards. Most practitioners will recommend several treatments to see if this treatment will work for you.



Benefits of Acupuncture

The procedure has been found to be a successful alternative treatment for many different painful conditions. The Western Medicine Theory of acupuncture today differs from the Traditional Chinese Medicine theory because the Western Medicine concept focuses on the impact of neuroscience. Recently, the Mayo Clinic published an article describing the proposed neuroscientific mechanisms thought to be influenced by the procedure:

  • Central Nervous System Stimulation – The procedure may stimulate the nerves in your spinal cord to release pain-suppressing neurotransmitters.
  • Endorphin Release – Endorphins are your body’s natural Morphine. They are part of your body’s natural pain-control system and are released into the central nervous system when stimulated by acupuncture. Endorphins seem to reduce pain in a similar manor to the effects of taking a pain medication.
  • Vital Signs – Treatment may also have an effect on your blood pressure, blood flow and body temperature, which are regulated by the central nervous system. The small thin needles seem to increase the blood flow in the area surrounding the needle. The increase in blood flow supplies nourishment to tissue and removes toxic substances (Mayo Clinic 2004).

A major benefit to many patients is that the procedure is a drug-free way to decrease pain. Although many patients may experience pain relief with pharmacologic treatments, there is a concern of overuse and dependence that can limit their effectiveness. People with chronic pain conditions taking opiod medications often develop medication tolerance and need an increased dosage to achieve the same effect. With this approach, you may be able to effectively decrease your pain without taking medications, or can be used effectively in conjunction with other treatments. Traditional Chinese Medicine has practiced acupuncture for more than 2,000 years to balance opposing forces of yin and yang by releasing “Chi” (energy). It is thought that when yin and yang are in harmony, chi flows freely within the body and a person is considered healthy. In theory, when a person is sick or injured, there is a barrier to the normal flow of chi. When the barrier is removed by acupuncture, chi is restored and equilibrium is obtained. Traditional Chinese medicine has identified some 500 specific points where needles are to be inserted for specific effects.



As with all medications and interventions, there is a risk of complications. Reported risks and complications associated with the procedure are extremely rare and the procedure is considered very safe. The main risks may include an increased risk of superficial bleeding or bruising at the needle sites. People with bleeding disorders or who those taking blood thinners (including daily aspirin) should discuss this with their acupuncturist before proceeding. A serious risk is the transmission of infectious diseases (HIV and Hepatitis) that may be transmitted. However, this risk is diminished if you go to an experienced provider who sterilizes or does not reuse needles.



In today’s Western Medicine acupuncture has emerged as an effective treatment option for many different conditions. A published research study in 2007 said that acupuncture was the only treatment for Migraines that was able to provide a steady improvement in symptoms, compared to the traditional pharmacologic treatment of Rizatriptan (Facco 2007). Another study, which examined the effects that acupuncture had on patients with Osteoarthritis concluded that acupuncture plus routine care is associated with, marked clinical improvement in patients (Witt 2006). It should be noted that acupuncture should not be considered first-line treatment for many serious conditions including cancer, diabetes, and infection. Acupuncture has proven to be very valuable in treating several diseases and pain conditions, especially chronic persistent pain. Currently researchers are examining the effects this treatment has on treating obesity and addiction. The results are still unpublished, but may be promising. If you are suffering from a painful condition that has been refractory to other treatments, contact Arizona Pain Specialists today to see if you can benefit from this or other treatments.


Articles Traditional Acupuncture in Migraine: A Controlled, Randomized Study. Facco E, Liguori A, Petti F, Zanette G, Coluzzi F, De Nardin M, Mattia C. Headache. 2007 Sep 14 PMID: 17868354 Advances of clinical studies on acupuncture and moxibustion for treatment of periodontitis Wu YT, Liu LA. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2007 Aug;27(8):620-2 PMID: 17853765 Effectiveness of acupuncture as adjunctive therapy in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, controlled trial. Berman BM, Lao L, Langenberg P, Lee WL, Gilpin AM, Hochberg MC. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Dec 21;141(12):901-10 PMID: 15611487 Study finds acupuncture improves fibromyalgia symptoms. Mayo Clinic Womens Healthsource. 2006 Dec;10(12):3 Mayo Clinic Checkup / December 2004 (Vol. 11, No. 6) Getting the point Patients find relief with acupuncture Acupuncture in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip: a randomized, controlled trial with an additional nonrandomized arm. Witt CM, Jena S, Brinkhaus B, Liecker B, Wegscheider K, Willich SN. Arthritis Rheum. 2006 Nov;54 (11):3485-93