A 3,000-year-old Chinese treatment for relieving pain using hair-thin needles inserted into the skin at specific points throughout the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, good health requires a delicate balance in qi (pronounced “chi”), the body’s life force. Disease results from an imbalance in qi—specifically an imbalance between opposing yin and yang energies. Acupuncture is thought to restore this balance. Western scientists view acupuncture as a form of stimulation that increases blood flow and the levels of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

In a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2012, researchers rigorously analyzed data from 29 high-quality studies of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic pain from osteoarthritis, migraines and chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. These studies compared acupuncture with over-the-counter pain relievers, other standard medicines and “sham” acupuncture treatments that involved placing the needles only superficially. They found that about half of all patients treated with real acupuncture reported improvements in pain compared with about 30% of those who did not receive it.

Medical experts consider acupuncture safe when performed by an experienced acupuncturist using sterile needles. They recommend that your acupuncturist be certified with the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (, 904-598-1005).

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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