There are many proven health benefits of acupuncture, whether you’re seeking short-term relief or need help with a chronic health condition. This alternative healing is likely why millions of adults nationwide get acupuncture treatments each year. Acupuncture provides pain relief, can help speed the body’s natural healing process, and has also been proved to have positive outcomes on mental health concerns such as depression. Acupuncture can also help relieve discomfort associated with chronic and terminal illnesses. For example, acupuncture has been proved to be effective in helping cancer patients manage pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hot flashes, xerostomia (dry mouth), neuropathy (nervous system problems), anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances, according to Cancer.gov. Acupuncture is a safe and effective alternative to opioids and other pain medications, which not only are hard on the body but also present the risk of addiction. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services found that people had less pain or were better able to manage pain when they received acupuncture as part of their health treatment.
Acupuncture works by restoring the body’s natural healing powers. Acupuncture involves placing very thin needles into specific points on the body to influence the body’s energy flow and help the body heal itself in a natural way. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is linked to the belief that disease is caused by disruptions to the flow of energy (called qi in Chinese) in the body. The acupuncturist places whisper-thin needles into the arms, back, neck and other areas where the chi (or energy flow) has been blocked. The acupuncture needles stimulate points on or under the skin called acupuncture points or acupressure points, releasing this qi. These pathways — called “meridians” — become re-stimulated by the needles to bring blood and healing to the body. In Western medicine, acupuncture has been proved to relieve pain and help provide healing and relief from painful symptoms associated with everything from headaches to asthma to cancer. Western medicine sees the use of the needles as a way to stimulate the body’s nervous system, thereby prompting healing.
Acupuncture can be helpful for treating a wide variety of conditions ranging from cancer to headaches to sciatic nerve pain. It may also be useful for:
- Back pain, neck pain, knee pain, hand and foot pain, wrist and ankle pain, sciatic pain, nerve pain, arthritis, sports injuries, work-related injuries, TMJ, and carpal tunnel
- Whiplash and injuries from automobile accidents
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Menstrual cramping
- Herniated discs
- Emotional issues: Anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia
- Women’s health: Prenatal and postpartum care, menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome, endometriosis, symptoms of menopause and infertility
- Pediatric problems such as bedwetting, digestive upset, ear infection, allergies, hyperactivity and injury treatment
- Digestive disorders such as heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and constipation
- Respiratory problems such as asthma, acute and chronic cough, allergies, and chronic sinus problems
- Men’s health problems such as erectile dysfunction, impotence, male infertility, urination difficulties and prostate problems
- Miscellaneous conditions such as fatigue, adrenal fatigue, vertigo and dizziness, eye and vision problems, and tooth, jaw and dental issues
Acupuncture cost will vary depending on session length, practitioner experience and education, and regional averages. Learn the average cost of acupuncture in your area. In general, acupuncture cost is higher for the initial intake session, and subsequent treatment sessions cost less. The initial session is often longer because it requires more time for the practitioner to assess patients’ health needs and create a treatment plan. The typical cost of a first visit to an acupuncturist is $100-$150, depending on where you live, local demand and the experience level of the acupuncturist.
After the initial session, many acupuncture providers charge a lower rate for ongoing or follow-up sessions. The lower rate is possible because the office has already processed the patient’s paperwork and created a new patient profile. In addition, the acupuncturist has already created a treatment plan and done a thorough health assessment of patient needs. Ongoing sessions may range in cost from $55 to $100. You may be able to purchase a package of sessions at one time for a lower cost per session.
Acupuncture takes place inside a practitioner's office, much like an exam in a private room in a traditional doctor’s office. At the beginning of an acupuncture session, your acupuncturist will discuss your overall health and ask what’s bothering you. Often acupuncture is used for pain relief, prevention of illness, and the treatment of chronic health concerns. If it’s your first visit to the acupuncturist, they’ll ask comprehensive questions about your lifestyle, emotional health, diet, and family health to map out your health history. In addition to the information you share verbally, the acupuncturist may take your pulse from various positions at your wrist, may perform a standard physical exam, and may inspect your reflexes, tongue and inner ears. This physical information provides the acupuncturist with additional insights about your overall health and helps guide your treatment.
As you lie on the treatment table, the acupuncturist will tap very thin needles into your skin at different points to stimulate various areas of your body. The American Academy of Acupuncture explains that the needles encourage the body to promote natural healing and improve functioning. Heat or electrical stimulation may also be applied at precise acupuncture points — although frequently, treatment is solely done using needles. During an acupuncture session, patients lie in a relaxed position with the needles in place for five to 30 minutes or more. In general, acupuncture is a relaxing experience and the offices are designed to help you feel at ease. The needles used in acupuncture are very thin and sterile, and insertion is not typically a painful experience. Most people feel no discomfort; patients often fall asleep during the treatment. In subsequent sessions, the acupuncturist builds on the patient’s existing plan and changes the treatment (or placement of needles) based on current health.