Compelling Reasons to Try Acupuncture for Pain Relief

Back pain? Arthritis? Sore neck? Migraines? Research shows that this traditional practice may ease these—and more

Relaxed Woman has acupuncture needles on her

Nearly half of U.S. adults have chronic pain in their neck, back or joints, or headaches that hurt a lot and occur frequently. The recent opioid epidemic has made many people afraid to seek relief, but pills aren’t the only way to turn down the volume on chronic pain. The traditional Chinese practice of acupuncture can be an effective way to help manage pain related to these conditions, as well as dental procedures, labor and menstrual cramps, and arthritis.

If volunteering as a human pincushion sounds like an unlikely way to ease pain, consider these facts from the Mayo Clinic: Acupuncture needles are super-thin, so the most you should feel is a little discomfort or mild ache as they’re placed. Typically, just five to 20 needles are inserted at specific points. These are spots that Chinese medicine suggests help balance the body’s energy flow and where Western experts believe the body’s blood flow and natural painkillers are given a boost. All you have to do during the procedure: Relax on a comfortably padded table for 10 to 20 minutes.

Here’s a quick look at the research and how acupuncture may be able to help you.

Give current pain treatments a boost. Adding this therapy to others may mean greater pain relief if you have pain in the neck, lower back and knees, including arthritis. The American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recommend it as a nondrug way to treat low-back pain when other methods don’t work. And multiple studies of arthritis, specifically in the knee and hip, found that people who had acupuncture experienced significantly more relief than those who did not.

Put head pain to rest. About 75% of people suffer from tension headaches. They can be mild—or derail your whole day. Acupuncture may help reduce the number per month and how badly they hurt. It’s also used as a preventive measure for people whose tension headaches are disabling. For migraine sufferers, acupuncture can help prevent future episodes as well as medicines do, and acupuncture’s effects may last for more than half of a year.

Calm some types of digestive distress. Surgery or chemotherapy are challenging for the mind and body, and experiencing nausea and vomiting afterward makes them more so. Studies that involved more than 1,000 people showed acupuncture to be helpful at easing these troubling aftereffects.

Check credentials first. If you want to give this ancient therapy a try, choose a practitioner who has plenty of experience and always uses sterile needles. This can help you steer clear of side effects such as infection, as well as injuries to organs and nerves. Ask your healthcare team for recommendations (and whether acupuncture is safe for you), and check that the practitioner holds a license or certification before taking a spot on the table.