All About Acupuncture

A hand inserting acupuncture needles into a patient's back.

Acupuncture is a growing service many NDs provide. Approximately 30% of NDs incorporate acupuncture in their practice according to the AANMC 2020 Income and Compensation Survey.  NDs also frequently work with licensed acupuncturists as part of their patient’s healthcare delivery team. One example of acupuncture’s growth in popularity is evidenced by utilization in Comprehensive Cancer Centers. The National Cancer Institute indicates that 73% of NCI Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States are now offering acupuncture to patients, 1  2 more and more people are interested in learning further and experiencing it for themselves.

What is Acupuncture?

Originating in China over 3000 years ago, 3 the practice of acupuncture is becoming more widely recognized around the world as a beneficial therapy. 4 Acupuncture is an ancient treatment where very thin needles are inserted into the skin at certain parts of the body in order to stimulate points that are thought to connect internal organs to the surface of the body. 5These areas of connection are referred to as “meridians,” with 12 principal meridians which are thought to connect the limbs to the trunk and head. In ancient tradition, Qi (pronounced chee), or life energy, flows through these meridians. 6 After the needles are inserted, the acupuncturist manipulates them, usually with either an up-and-down motion or a rapid rotation and may use other methods to stimulate the needles. 7

How Does Acupuncture Work?

When a needle is inserted into connective tissue and manipulated, the tissue constricts around the needle, which is called “needle grasp.” This coupling of connective tissue with a needle produces a mechanical signal, which can, in turn, create a biochemical signal that leads to a number of effects, including nervous system pathway activation, gene expression changes, modification of extracellular matrix composition, and protein synthesis. 8 9 10This means that acupuncture has the potential to significantly positively influence the make-up of the cell populations connected to the tissue beneath the skin. Through the use of functional MRIs, researchers have shown that acupuncture impacts the brain’s Limbic system to reduce pain. 11 

What Can Acupuncture Treat?

Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture are used extensively for myriad patient concerns. Among some of the more common conditions treated with acupuncture are pain management, addiction, and gastrointestinal diseases such as IBS, IBD, gastroesophageal reflux, and dyspepsia. 12 Although more research needs to be conducted, studies suggest that acupuncture helps in the treatment of opioid addiction, particularly in relieving withdrawal-related anxiety and depression during the detoxification process. 13  Acupuncture can help to relieve and manage pain in those with chronic pain conditions and cancer patients, and many people undergoing cancer treatment find acupuncture to be an effective pain management strategy either in combination with or as an alternative to medication. 14 Acupuncture can also prevent and treat asthma, and many people find it relieves pain and symptoms of a number of other health problems. 15 Acupuncture is becoming an increasingly widely used form of integrative health treatment that can be used on its own or to complement patient care for a number of medical issues. 16 17 

If you are interested in integrative medicine and treatments like acupuncture, a career in naturopathic medicine may be a fit for you.


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