Acupuncture is the placement of hair-fine, sterile needles into specific areas of the body referred to as acupuncture points. These points are located along channels, or meridians, that travel to all areas of the body and organ systems. When stimulated, the acupuncture points activate the body’s internal energetics, or Qi (pronounced chee).  Acupuncture regulates the movement of Qi and activates the body’s own recuperative ability, clearing blocks that create pain, and promotes natural healing for a wide variety of medical problems.


Acupuncture is effective at treating pain and stimulates nerve regeneration and healing by placing needles in acupuncture points near the pain site, either on an acupuncture point on the channels where the pain is located. While acupuncture needles can be placed near or over the location of pain, some of the more effective points used for pain are often located in distal points located far from the pain enhancing the overall analgesic effect of acupuncture without the side-effects and toxicity associated with pharmaceuticals.


On an emotional level, acupuncture is profoundly relaxing and can bring clarity of mind, balance emotions, and returns people to their authentic self.


Acupuncture is an important tool in avoiding the development of opioid addiction and it is now recognized that acupuncture should be used as for pain before opiates are prescribed.


  • In 2013, the Osteoarthritis Research Society found that acupuncture was superior to sham acupuncture. The same study concluded that acupuncture is significantly more effective than muscle-strengthening exercises such as tai chi, weight loss, standard care, or aerobic exercise in reducing arthritis pain.[2]

  • The Acupuncture Evidence Project conducted by the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association proved a positive effect of acupuncture as a preventative medicine and with the following conditions:[3]

    • Allergic rhinitis

    • Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting 

    • Chronic low back pain

    • Headaches and migraines

    • Knee osteoarthritis

    • Post-operative nausea & vomiting

    • Post-operative pain

  • In another study, the largest study of its kind to date, 454,920 patients were treated with acupuncture for a headache, low back pain, and osteoarthritis in a trial. The 8,727 treating physicians recorded results as marked or moderate in 76% of cases. In all analyses, true acupuncture was significantly superior to no acupuncture and sham acupuncture controls [4]

  • A science review on acupuncture and moxibustion found that acupuncture and moxibustion were superior or equal to medical standard care for lateral elbow pain.[5]

Acupuncture has a direct impact on the brain by activating the body’s natural, or endogenous opioids and opioid receptor sites; [6] this action is important in addressing pain, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. One consequential study concluded that “the majority [of studies] agreed on the efficacy of acupuncture as a strategy for the treatment of opiod addiction” and that “neurochemical and behavioral evidence has shown that acupuncture helps to reduce the effects of positive and negative reinforcement involved in opiate addiction by modulating mesolimbic dopamine neurons. In conclusion, acupuncture has been proven an effective treatment for pain, withdrawal symptoms, and reduces stress and anxiety contributing to relapse of opioid use.


Important Note: Only licensed acupuncturists with the L.Ac. Designation are trained at Oriental Medical Schools at a Master’s level and have passed the national board exam (NCCAOM) that is specific for Chinese medicine. L.Ac. stands for Licensed Acupuncturist. Other practitioners using acupuncture needles may have less than 100 hundred hours of training compared to thousands of hours of graduate school. Addiction recovery is a complex condition and warrants a fully trained professional for best results. Beyond NADA certified detox providers applying auricular therapy (see below), it would be wise to avoid being needled by physical therapists or chiropractors who are not licensed acupuncturists as it may be ineffectual or even prove to be dangerous. [8]


Compared Levels of Training for Acupuncture:

*Oriental medical schools in the USA are graduate programs requiring a college degree for entry in addition to the Oriental medical school hours noted.


(DAOM) Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Med = 4500 hours Oriental medical school

(DOM) in the states of FL, RI, NM = 3300 hours Oriental medical school

(LAc) Masters of Acupuncture and OM= 1,700-3300 Oriental medical school

(MD) Medical Doctor with Medical Acupuncture certificate = 300 hours of continuing education classes in Chinese medicine

(DC) Chiropractor Acupuncture certificate NC = 100-200 hours of continuing education classes

(PT) Physical Therapist dry needling = 50-80 hours training in needling

China MD, DOM, L.Ac.-Acupuncturists with MD degree from China =One would expect that these practitioners’ training would exceed the levels of training in the U.S., but they are only required to attend a total of four years of higher level education whereas licensed acupuncturist typically have eight years of higher education (university level), and many more years of training specifically in acupuncture and herbal medicine typically. These acupuncturists have a medical degree but are generally not qualified to be board-certified medical doctors in the U.S. as they have not met the higher standards required to practice medicine in the U.S. Because they graduated from medical school in China they can call themselves a doctor and use MD in their title. On the plus side, these MD's trained in China have at least passed the minimal standards for practicing acupuncture having passed national boards (NCCAOM) if they hold a license (L.Ac.); this is more than you can say for other practitioners needling people with minimal training.


[1] Crawford Paul, Penzien Donald B., and Coeytaux Remy. Medical Acupuncture. August 2017, 29(4): 229231.

[2] Corbett MS, Rice SJ, Madurasinghe V, Slack R, Fayter DA, Harden M, et al. Acupuncture and other Physical Treatments for the Relief of Pain Due to Osteoarthritis of the Knee: Network Meta-analysis. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage / OARS, Osteoarthritis Research Society. 2013;21(9):1290-8.

[3] 1McDonald J, Janz S. The Acupuncture Evidence Project:  A Comprehensive Literature Review. Australian Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Association Limited, Dec 19, 2016

[4] Vickers AJ, Cronin AM, Maschino AC, Lewith G, MacPherson H, Foster NE, et al. Acupuncture for Chronic Pain: Individual Patient Data Meta-Analysis. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012;172(19):1444-53.

[5] Gadau M, Yeung WF, Liu H, Zaslawski C, Tan YS, Wang FC, et al. Acupuncture and Moxibustion for Lateral Elbow Pain: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2014;14:136

[6] Wu LZ, Cui CL, Tian JB, Ji D, Han JS. Suppression of Morphine Withdrawal by Electroacupuncture in Rats: Dynorphin and Kappa-Opioid Receptor Implicated. Brain Research. 1999;851(1-2):290-6.

[7] Lin JG, Chan YY, Chen YH. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Opiate Addiction. Evidence Based Complement Alternative Med. 2012;2012:739045.

[8] Dry Needling Adverse Effects. Retrieved May 2016 from:

© 2018-2028 Dr. Catherine Browne, DAOM, L.Ac.