top of page

Introduction to Acupuncture

Acupuncture is among the oldest healing practices in the world.  As part of traditional Chinese Medicine, it is a whole medical system.  It is based on the concept that disease results from disruption in the flow of qi in the body.  Practices such as herbs, meditation, massage, and acupuncture seek to aid healing by restoring balance and the flow of qi.  Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body by a variety of techniques, including the insertion of thin metal needles though the skin.  It is intended to remove blockages and restore and maintain health.

Key Points

  • Acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years.

  • Acupuncture was originally developed thousands of years ago as a way to maintain good health and well-being, not just to heal illnesses.  Many patients come for regular treatments to achieve increased effectiveness and enjoyment in life.  Acupuncture can also be a powerful preventative measure to keep patients healthy throughout the year.

  • The World Health Organization endorses the use of acupuncture for over 200 symptoms and diseases and the US National Institutes of Health issued a consensus statement proposing acupuncture as a therapeutic intervention for complementary medicine.

  • As of 2004 nearly 50% of Americans who were enrolled in employer health insurance plans were covered for acupuncture treatment.  You may be covered for acupuncture treatments too!

  • Today’s acupuncture needles are extremely fine in diameter (about the thickness of two human hairs), pre-packaged, sterile, and disposable. 

  • Studies have shown that acupuncture points have significantly more electrical conductivity than areas of skin without acupuncture points.

  • Acupuncture can increase the success rate of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) up to 65%.

About Acupuncture

The term "acupuncture" describes a family of procedures involving the stimulation of anatomical points on the body using a variety of techniques.  The acupuncture technique that has been most often studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.


Practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years, acupuncture is one of the key components of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  In TCM, the body is seen as a delicate balance of two opposing yet inseparable, complementary forces:  yin and yang.  Yin represents cold, slow, or passive aspects of the person, while yang represents hot, excited, or active aspects.

According to TCM, health is achieved by maintaining the body in a "balanced state" of yin and yang; disease is due to an internal imbalance of yin and yang that leads to blockage in the flow of qi, or vital energy.  In TCM, qi is the life force proposed to regulate a person's spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.  Qi travels along pathways known as meridians, which can be unblocked by using acupuncture at certain points on the body that connect with these meridians. 

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 had ever used acupuncture, and an estimated 2.1 million U.S. adults had used acupuncture in the previous year.

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. 

Finding a Qualified Practitioner

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.


It is important to find a NCCAOM certified practitioner.  The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is a​ non-profit​ in the​ United States​ that aims to establish, assess, and promote recognized standards of competence and safety in​ acupuncture​ and ​Oriental medicine​ for the protection and benefit of the public.

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.

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin.  People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain as the needles are inserted.  Some people feel energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed.  Treatment may take place over a period of several weeks or more.

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 before you start treatment to see whether acupuncture is covered for your condition and, if so, to what extent.  (For more information, see NCCAM's fact sheet Paying for CAM Treatment.)

        Frequency of Acupuncture Therapy

In China, it is common for acupuncturists to treat patients on a daily or every other day basis over the course of a week or two (sometimes longer) in order to make substantial and lasting changes in the condition being treated.  By comparison, in America, due to differences in service delivery methods and the schedules that most people follow, it is more common for acupuncturists to treat patients only once per week.  However, depending upon the severity of the ailment, how long the effects of acupuncture are maintained after each treatment, and other factors, it may be advisable to more closely follow the Chinese model.  The results of 6 or 8 treatments over two weeks may be superior to the same number of treatments spread over two months, while having the same cost and total office visit time.  It is important for patients to inform their practitioners about how long the beneficial effects of a treatment lasted.  If they only lasted two days, then treatment every two or three days may be needed in order to make sufficient progress.  In the event that only infrequent treatment is possible, then greater reliance may need to be placed on herb therapies, diet changes, special exercises, and methods of treatment that can be performed at home between office visits.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.  NCCAM, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20892 USA, Web:, E-mail: Contact NCCAM, National Institutes of Health (NIH)

"I have been seeing Holly for the past 15 months.  She has helped me with digestive & hormonal issues.  We have had great success.  Holly takes the time to listen to any concerns & explains everything clearly to you.  She is very kind & compassionate.  You always leave feeling like she genuinely cares about your health.  Maine has a true treasure in Holly." 

~ K.B.

bottom of page