Acupuncture is one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures in the world. Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture began to become better known in the United States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery.

The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical stimulation.

In the past two decades, acupuncture has grown in popularity 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.1 According to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey–the largest and most comprehensive survey of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) 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.

What Does Acupuncture Feel Like?

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid, and hair-thin as compared to much thicker hollow needles that cut cells and push fluid. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no or minimal pain (about as painful as a mosquito bite) as the needles are inserted. Some people are energized by treatment, while others feel relaxed. Improper needle placement or movement by the patient can cause soreness and pain during treatment. This is why it is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be 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. Practitioners should use a new set of disposable needles taken from a sealed package for each patient and should swab treatment sites with alcohol or another disinfectant before inserting needles.

Does Acupuncture Work?

The scientific community is very active in research proving the benefit of acupuncture. Just recently a study was performed inserting either a true or a sham acupuncture needle while taking a functional MRI of the brain. The study demonstrated that when the true needle was used the brain changed function in a good way. Another study showed that using a true acupuncture point morphine like chemicals are released, stress hormones are decreased and blood flow increased.

According to the NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture, there have been many studies on acupuncture’s potential usefulness. Promising results have emerged, showing efficacy of acupuncture in many types of conditions, for example, in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain. There are other situations–such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headache, migraine, fertility, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low-back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma–in which acupuncture may be useful as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or be included in a comprehensive management program. An NCCAM-funded study recently showed that acupuncture provides pain relief, improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the knee. Acupuncture was safer than the typically prescribed medication and had better improvement in function.

In my practice, arthritis and joint pain respond favorably. For example shoulder pain from a rotator cuff or impingement syndrome generally get good pain relief. An 80 year old man that could not open a door for almost 2 years due to wrist pain now can open doors pain free. Tennis elbow, hip bursitis and pain along with many foot conditions are relieved with acupuncture.

NIH has funded a variety of research projects on acupuncture. These grants have been funded by NCCAM, its predecessor the Office of Alternative Medicine, and other NIH institutes and centers.

Visit the NCCAM Web site, or call the NCCAM Clearinghouse for more information on scientific findings about acupuncture.

Read what the National Institutes of Health has to say about acupuncture NIH Medline Plus.

How Do I Find a Certified Practitioner?

=The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is the gold standard in qualifying Acupuncturists. It is a considerable professional achievement to earn the designation “Diplomate in Acupuncture (NCCAOM).” NCCAOM Certification indicates to employers, patients, and peers that one has met national standards for the safe and competent practice of acupuncture as defined by the profession. National board certification in acupuncture has been the mark of excellence in acupuncture since the inception of the Commission.

Dr. Zilahy is both licensed by the State of Connecticut and credentialed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.


What Should I Expect During My First Visit?

During your first office visit, Dr. Zilahy will ask you at length about your health condition, lifestyle, and behavior. Dr. Zilahy will want to obtain a complete picture of your treatment needs and behaviors that may contribute to your condition. Inform Dr. Zilahy about all treatments or medications you are taking and all medical conditions you have. You will then have a thorough examination to determine the diagnosis and to develope the best treatment plan.