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The Complementary Therapy Program does not offer acupuncture services, or classes, but recognizes the benefits of it. Therefore, the following information is provided. This service may be offered in the future.

The modern scientific explanation for why acupuncture works is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience of pain, or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body's own internal regulating system. The roots of acupuncture lie in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In Chinese tradition, the goal of acupuncture is to encourage the movement of qi (life energy). The constant flow of qi is essential for a person to keep their health. If the energy flow is blocked the body cannot keep the balance that is needed to maintain high energy and deal with health issues.

The FDA approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.

More than 40 states and the District of Columbia have laws regulating acupuncture practice. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine certifies practitioners of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Most states require this certification.

Benefits of Acupuncture

According to the National Cancer Institute, acupuncture is used to treat many illnesses and ailments and in cancer patients. Patients use it to control pain and to relieve nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hot flashes, xerostomia, neuropathy, anxiety, depression, and sleeping problems.

Acupuncture may work by causing physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain, affecting blood pressure and body temperature. Laboratory and animal studies of acupuncture for cancer treatment suggest acupuncture may also help the immune system be stronger during chemotherapy.

The strongest evidence of the effect of acupuncture has come from clinical trials on the use of acupuncture to relieve nausea and vomiting, but acupuncture appears to be more effective in preventing vomiting than in reducing nausea.

What's Involved in Acupuncture?

Acupuncture applies needles, heat, pressure, and other treatments to certain places on the skin, called acupuncture points (or acupoints), to cause a change in the physical functions of the body. The use of acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM is a medical system that has been used for thousands of years to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease.

The acupuncture method most well-known uses needles. Disposable, stainless steel needles that are slightly thicker than a human hair are inserted into the skin at acupoints. The acupuncture practitioner determines the correct acupoints to use for the problem being treated. The inserted needles may be twirled, moved up and down at different speeds and depths, heated, or charged with a weak electric current. There are other acupuncture methods that do not use needles.

Some acupuncture techniques include the following:

  • Auricular acupuncture:
    The placing of acupuncture needles at acupoints on the outer ear that match up with certain parts of the body.
  • Electroacupuncture:
    A procedure in which pulses of weak electrical current are sent through acupuncture needles into acupoints in the skin.
  • Trigger point acupuncture:
    The placing of acupuncture needles in a place on the skin that is away from the painful part of the body. Trigger points have to do with referred pain, pain that is not felt at the site of injury, but is sent along nerves and felt elsewhere in the body.
  • Laser acupuncture:
    The use of a weak laser beam instead of an acupuncture needle to stimulate an acupoint.
  • cupuncture point injection:
    The use of a syringe and needle to inject drugs, vitamins, herbal extracts, or other fluids into the body at an acupoint.
  • Microwave acupuncture:
    The use of a microwave device attached to an acupuncture needle to deliver microwave radiation to an acupoint.
  • Acupressure:
    A type of massage therapy in which the fingers are used to press on an acupoint. In cancer patients, acupressure has been used to control symptoms such as pain or nausea and vomiting.
  • Moxibustion:
    A type of heat therapy in which an herb is burned above the body to warm a meridian at an acupoint and increase the flow of blood and qi. The herb may be placed directly on the skin, held close to the skin for several minutes, or placed on the tip of an acupuncture needle. Heat lamps may also be used to warm the acupoints.
  • Cupping:
    A procedure in which a rounded glass cup is warmed and placed upside down over an area of the body, making a vacuum that holds the cup to the skin. Cupping is used to increase the flow of blood and qi. It is believed to open up the skin’s pores and allow toxins to leave the body.

Patients may have a needling feeling during acupuncture, known as "de qi sensation", making them feel heaviness, numbness, or tingling.

Tips for Choosing a Practitioner of Acupuncture

  • The practitioner should have a degree from an accredited acupuncture school and be certified by the school. Some states have licensed acupuncture practitioners. The National Acupuncture Commission certifies practitioners who pass written and practical exams.
  • The acupuncturist should sterilize needles or use disposable needles.
  • You should always see your physician before choosing acupuncture. Avoid practitioners that are not willing to work with your primary physician.
  • Visit the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine's Find a Practitioner page.

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