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Acupuncture 101: How it Works & Why It's Useful

Wednesday, September 29, 2021 10:16 AM

Pain is the most common reason Americans seek medical care, and increasingly more people are looking to acupuncture for relief.

What is it?
A traditional Chinese medicine practice, acupuncture is an ancient therapy that is recognized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for the treatment of a vast array of symptoms and conditions.

Acupuncture may help ease chronic conditions, including low-back pain, neck pain, and osteoarthritis/knee pain, as well as reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches and migraines, said Patricia Piant, a NorthShore licensed acupuncturist, who has been practicing acupuncture for 16 years.

Acupuncture involves stimulating specific points on the body by inserting thin needles through the skin. Traditional Chinese medicine describes acupuncture as a way to balance the flow of energy in the body.


Acupuncture is used in a growing numbers of cancer centers across the country, including NorthShore’s Kellogg Cancer Center, as it has been shown to help treat a variety of symptoms associated with cancer and the side effects of cancer treatments. Clinical trials have demonstrated that acupuncture is effective for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Researchers continue to study the mechanism of acupuncture to better understand how it helps relieve pain. Studies have suggested that the effect is related to stimulation to and the responses of the neuroendocrine system involving the central and peripheral nervous systems.

What does it do?
Acupuncture is known to stimulate local blood flow and affect endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. In addition to pain relief, patients often cite increased energy, a sense of relaxation and decreased stress or anxiety following treatments.

How does it work?
Tiny, sterilized, disposable needles are inserted in various acupuncture points across the body, and then disposed of after treatment. Acupuncture needles are very thin, and according to the National Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine (NCCAOM), 30 acupuncture needles would fit in one hypodermic needle. Most patients barely feel the needles being inserted or experience any pain during the treatment or needle removal, explained Piant.

“Low-Level Laser Therapy is a safe, effective and painless way to treat patients who are needle phobic, or when needles are contraindicated due to conditions such as lymphedema,” added Piant.

“Treating patients in an Integrative Medicine setting within a large hospital system offers a peek into what the future of medicine may hold. I have seen amazing things happen when the patient, the practitioner and the hospital work in tandem toward better health outcomes,” said Piant.