Is acupuncture safe?

In the hands of a licensed practitioner acupuncture is a very safe, pain-free, effective treatment for many acute and chronic conditions that has been used for thousands of years. The frequency of patient injuries are equivalent to massage therapy. The needles are sterile, used once and discarded in approved sharps containers. Learn more.

Is acupuncture painful?

Acupuncture treatments are not painful. Acupuncture is performed with hair-thin needles that do not cause the pain felt from a hypodermic needle. Patients often fall asleep and are in deep level of relaxation on the table.

Are there any side effects?

One of the great advantages of acupuncture is that it is very safe. Other than an occasional bruise, minor bleeding at the site of needling, there are few side effects.

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture triggers the body to heal itself. It promotes the release of endogenous opioids (powerful natural pain killers) as well as balances the endocrine system and shifts the nervous system from sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic (rest and repair).

What training is required to become a licensed acupuncturist?

A minimum of a master’s degree program is required to practice, consisting of 3-4 years of 2,000+ hours of didactic (classroom) training (Anatomy & Physiology, Pathology, Bacteriology, Virology, orthopedic physical examination techniques, and Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, clean needle technique, herbology, etc.) and a year or more of internship. Some schools have hospital privileges for their interns to allow them to work side by side with medical residents. After completion of their medical training, graduates must pass an 8 hour certification examination developed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Virginia acupuncturists are licensed through the Virginia Board of Medicine and require 60 credits of continuing education every 3 years in acupuncture and biomedicine to maintain their licensure.

Where are the needles placed?

Needles are inserted at specific acupuncture points on the body. Depending on the specific condition the needles commonly are placed at or below the elbows on the arms, and at or below the knees. Other common areas are on the back, abdomen and ears.

What should I expect from my first treatment?

During the first treatment the practitioner will take a complete health history and establish a complete evaluation of the condition you are seeking treatment for and ask you questions about diet and lifestyle. The practitioner will feel your pulse, look at your tongue and perform any necessary orthopedic exams to differentially diagnose musculoskeletal conditions. Please wear loose clothing.

Can I receive acupuncture when I’m pregnant?

Acupuncture is safe during pregnancy and can help relieve many pregnancy and postpartum conditions including back pain and morning sickness. Because there are some acupuncture points that are contraindicated during pregnancy, it is important to inform the practitioner if you are pregnant.  We highly recommend acupuncture through your first trimester to help assist embryo development, prevent miscarriage, and address any other symptoms that may arise.

How can I prepare for my acupuncture treatment?

The best way to prepare is to eat a snack or a light meal before treatment so your body has sufficient energy to work with. Wear loose clothing, and avoid caffeine before your visit.

Do Western medical doctors approve of acupuncture?

Yes. There are approximately 38,000 licensed acupuncturists in the U.S., and the top 10 hospital systems in the country (such as Johns Hopkins and Cleveland Clinic) offer acupuncture services in both in-patient and outpatient settings. In addition, the National Institutes of Health Library of Medicine has more than 30,000 studies on Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (including moxibustion, gua sha, cupping and herbal medicine). The FDA regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices.

Are there any additional resources you recommend?

Yes, here are a list of those:

  • The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine – they create the examinations to pass in order to be nationally board certified. You can find a practitioner throughout the US using a zip code or city/state, and can read about their advocacy efforts on the Hill: NCCAOM.org
  • The Acupuncture Evidence Project, which is a comprehensive literature review detailing scientific evidence for acupuncture in the treatment of 117 conditions: Read the PDF
  • The American Society of Acupuncturists offers good information relating to acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine for the consumer.
  • The National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute has a web page promoting acupuncture for the treatment of side effects related to cancer treatment: NCI Acupuncture Information
  • Nancy’s list offers a comprehensive selection of providers who specialize in cancer care: Nancy’s List