The longest and largest randomized controlled clinical trial of acupuncture ever 1 conducted found that it is an effective treatment for the pain associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Acupuncture is used routinely to treat a variety of medical problems, including muscular disorders (back pain, tennis elbow, frozen shoulder)...respiratory disorders (asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis). and digestive disorders (constipation, irritable bowel syndrome).

Does this mean that acupuncture is right for you?

Matthew D. Bauer, a licensed acupuncturist, describes how the procedure has worked for his patients during his 19 years of practice…

What Is Acupuncture?

Conventional Western medicine uses medication or surgery to treat an illness, while acupuncture stimulates the body to heal itself.

How it works: The ancient Chinese believed that energy, called cbi (pronounced "chee"), flows to each cell of the body through pathways called meridians. If chi gets stuck at a certain spot, it creates an imbalance that can lead to a variety of health problems.

Acupuncture focuses on points where chi tends to get stuck. Stimulating these points with needles (acupuncture) or finger pressure (acupressure) restores normal chi circulation, allowing the cells to return to their healthy state.

What acupuncture involves: The patient lies on a table, fully or partially clothed, depending on the body part being treated.

The acupuncturist wipes the areas that will be "needled" with alcohol or another antiseptic solution and inserts thin (slightly thicker than a human hair), disposable, stainless steel needles typically to inch into the skin. Most patients feel a pinprick-but no pain.

The needles are usually left in place for 20 to 30 minutes. Most conditions require treatment once or twice weekly for three to four weeks. Occasional maintenance treatments for several more weeks may be recommended.

Important: Some people do not respond to acupuncture treatment. If acupuncture is going to work for you and your particular problem—you will begin to notice improvement by the sixth treatment.

Because acupuncture relies on the body's own healing powers, it can be used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, such as medication or surgery. Acupuncture typically costs $50 to $90 per treatment. In some cases, insurance will pay.

*To find a licensed acupuncturist in your area, contact the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), 703-548-9004 or California has its own state licensing board. Contact it at 916-415-3021 or

Some of the conditions for which Mr. Bauer's patients have sought acupuncture…


Patient: An 84-year-old man who has osteoarthritis in his knee. Arthritis is a common complaint among people who seek treatment from an acupuncturist, but this man's case was complicated by the fact that he recently had had surgery for torn knee cartilage. He had recovered well from the surgery, but physical therapy aggravated his arthritis pain six weeks later.

Treatment: Needles were placed in local points in the knee and in other points on the opposite knee and the elbows) that influence the affected area. After two treatments, the patient reported feeling significantly less pain. But then the discomfort returned for the next four treatments, which is rare. After eight treatments, his pain was again significantly reduced, and he stopped taking anti-inflammatory medications. After 12 treatments, the patient was pain-free. He was treated for two to four additional weeks to ensure that his pain did not return.

Attention Deficit

Patient: An 8-year-old girl who was showing signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Treatment: For two months, finger pressure (acupressure) was used rather than needles. It is common to use acupressure on children under age 13 because the acupuncture needles can frighten them. Focus was placed on points along the midline of the body, including the sternum (chest bone), between the eyes and on the scalp.

After each treatment, the girl was much quieter and more subdued and showed marked improvement at school. After two months, the parents stopped treatment, only to have her teacher request that they "continue whatever you had been doing." After six months of treatment, the girl was not entirely cured, but her behavior had significantly improved—without the use of prescription medication.

Macular Degeneration

Patient: A 79-year-old woman complaining of low-back pain. After successful treatment of her back pain with 10 sessions over six weeks, this patient asked for help with her vision, which was being diminished by age-related macular degeneration (AMD). She was warned that the chance of improvement was about 50/50, depending on how far the disease had progressed.

Treatment: Twice a week, needles were inserted into local points around the eyes, forehead and cheeks, and in distal points on her shins, lower legs and torso.

After one week, her ability to read had improved. After six weeks, she visited her eye doctor and was able to read two additional lines on the eye chart.

Her treatments are continuing once every two to three weeks for maintenance, and her vision is significantly better than it was before treatment.

Urinary Incontinence

Patient: A 56-year-old woman who developed incontinence with the onset of menopause.

Treatment: Twice a week for one month, then once weekly for two months, needles were inserted locally in the lower abdomen (over the bladder) and distally on the top of her head.

She also performed Kegel exercises (bladder-training movements that involve tightening and relaxing pelvic-floor muscles) two or three times a day to improve her muscle tone. She now has no symptoms of incontinence and continues to get a maintenance treatment every three months.

Is Acupuncture Right for you?

Acupuncture is one of the world's oldest and A most frequently used medical procedures.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, acupuncture started in China more than 2,000 years ago. The treatment made news in the US in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his pain after surgery.

Acupuncture needles are metallic, solid and hair-thin. People experience acupuncture differently, but most feel no pain or minimal pain as the needles are inserted. Some people are energized by treatment, while other people feel relaxed.

Improper needle placement, movement of the patient or a defect in the needle can cause soreness and pain during treatment, so it is important to get treatment from a qualified practitioner.

The World Health Organization suggests that acupuncture might relieve symptoms of sinusitis, bronchitis, toothache, gingivitis, low back pain, hiccups and migraine.

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