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Physiotherapist doing acupuncture on a young woman on her back

Key Points

  • Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that involves the insertion and stimulation of very fine needles into specific points of the body. The practice originated in China over 3,000 years ago and has been used for many different ailments, including pain relief.
  • There are different types of acupuncture – Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. These practices differ in the number of needles used and the locations where they’re inserted. However, the end goal of these methods is similar to one another.
  • Studies have shown that acupuncture treatment might help treat different kinds of pain (e.g., nerve pain, fibromyalgia, lower back pain, osteoarthritis.). It may also be useful for treating other pain-related conditions, including respiratory disorders. Anecdotal evidence suggests that acupuncture may even help with mood disorders.
  • Acupuncture can be safely integrated into a comprehensive pain management plan. When used in conjunction with more standard treatment, acupuncture can help increase pain relief and improve quality of life.
  • If you suffer from chronic pain and want to try something different, acupuncture may be worth considering. Other alternative treatments, such as medical cannabis, may also be viable. Here at Lyphe, we offer individualised cannabis-based plans to help patients get the relief they need.


Acupuncture is an ancient healing art practised in China for over three thousand years. It is a form of alternative medicine that involves inserting tiny needles into the skin at specific points on the body. The goal of acupuncture is to restore balance and harmony in the body, which in turn can help relieve pain, improve circulation, and boost immunity.

An ancient art, recently it has once again gained in popularity as an alternative treatment method for various conditions. Today, it is being practised for the treatment of conditions and symptoms like depression, anxiety, chronic pain and infertility.

Some say acupuncture does wonders, while others remain sceptical. Do these claims hold water?

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the benefits and drawbacks of acupuncture. We’ll also discuss the science behind it and how it works. In addition, you’ll find out if it can be used to treat specific conditions such as chronic pain.

But before we discuss acupuncture in detail, let’s introduce you to Lyphe. Here at Lyphe, we specialise in providing patients with medical cannabis therapy for various conditions (including chronic pain). Our goal is to provide patients with a carefully curated treatment plan that best suits their unique needs. If you’re interested in exploring medical cannabis for pain relief, schedule a consultation with one of our doctors today. 

Acupuncture: what you need to know

Schematic diagram of body meridians used in acupuncture

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves the insertion of needles into the body to treat pain, stress, and other conditions. A typical acupuncture session involves inserting needles into specific points on the body. These needles are made of stainless steel and extremely thin (between 0.012 and 0.15 inches wide).

Acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, and its origin can be traced back to China. It is one of the oldest practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It shares many of the same principles as acupressure therapy which originated in India.

TCM is a medical system practised since ancient times in China. Unlike Western medicine, which focuses on symptoms, TCM focuses on the person as a whole. It’s based on the idea that all body parts are connected and interdependent. Treating one area without considering how it affects others will not lead to true health based on this medical philosophy.

How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture is based on the idea that energy, called Qi (pronounced “chee”), flows through the body along pathways called meridians. These meridians are said to intersect at points called acupuncture points or acupoints. When these are stimulated via needles or other means, they can relieve pain and other symptoms by unblocking “stagnant’ energy flow in the body’s qi.

Clinical studies show that acupuncture results in the release of various neurotransmitters in the body, including:

  • Endorphins – These are the body’s natural painkillers. They are produced in the brain and released into the bloodstream. When they bind to opioid receptors on nerve cells, they block the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
  • Encephalin – This is a neuropeptide that is also released during acupuncture. It’s been shown to play a role in the fight-or-flight response (also known as the stress response). Encephalin binds to the opioid receptors and may also produce analgesic effects.
  • Serotonin – Dubbed as the “feel-good hormone”, serotonin plays a vital role in mood, cognition, sleep, digestion, and even pain perception. It carries messages between neurons in the brain and throughout your body.
  • Dynorphin –Dynorphin is a neuropeptide that plays a role in regulating pain, addiction and mood. Just like other analgesic neurotransmitters, it binds to opioid receptors. This binding leads to a reduction in pain and a feeling of well-being.
  • Corticosteroids – Corticosteroids are another type of endogenous painkiller. The adrenal gland releases them into the bloodstream in response to physical or psychological stress. Corticosteroids work by suppressing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the injured area, thereby speeding up healing.

What does acupuncture feel like?

Acupuncture doesn’t hurt in almost all cases. Many people describe the sensation as a slight tingling, similar to an electrode placed on your skin or a vibrating motor. Many describe it as an electrical current running through their body, while others say it feels like a warm sensation radiating from the insertion point. The process itself may also be numbing or relaxing. Some people feel nothing at all.

Pain may arise when the needle is inserted improperly, as with inexperienced or sham acupuncturists. As such, it is essential to look for licenced and well-experienced practitioners to avoid these complications.

Kinds of acupuncture

Acupuncture needles on a wooden board and a Chinese symbol

By stimulating specific points on the body with needles, heat, or electrical stimulation, acupuncture can help to reduce pain, lower stress levels, and improve mood. There are many different styles of acupuncture, each with its own set of theories and practices.

Chinese acupuncture

In a Chinese acupuncture session, the acupuncturist will use needles to insert into the body’s acupoints. Compared to other forms of acupuncture, the needles used in this form are generally thicker and larger. The acupuncturist will insert these needles deeper than other methods but generally use fewer overall needles.

To enhance the sensation, the acupuncturist may twist or turn the needle. They may also use moxibustion, a process in which herbs are burned near the skin. While moxibustion has been used for centuries as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is not considered a treatment for any condition or symptom.

Japanese acupuncture

This form of acupuncture has been practised in Japan since the 6th century. It differs from traditional Chinese acupuncture in several ways, including the use of thinner needles and a more focused approach to treatment. The needles are generally sharper and use more treatment points than traditional Chinese acupuncture.

In this method, the acupuncturist inserts the needle into the skin’s surface. The shallow application of the needle is believed to allow for a more focused and concentrated effect on the body’s energy flow. Sessions are almost always accompanied by moxibustion, in which a heat source stimulates the acupuncture points.

Since more needles are used, Japanese acupuncture sessions are typically longer and more frequent. The Japanese method is often used to treat pain, digestive disorders and respiratory conditions.

Korean acupuncture

Before a Korean acupuncture session, the acupuncturist will perform a full analysis of a patient’s medical history and current symptoms. The acupuncturist will then determine which points to apply the needles to in order to treat the patient’s specific pain or ailment.

Unlike other methods, Korean acupuncture focuses solely on applying needles to acupoints located in the body’s extremities (e.g., hands, feet, ears). Only four needles at most are used during each session. The acupuncturist will target five acupoints (known as the five “shu” points) that correspond to the five elements (or wu xing) in TCM.

Practical uses of acupuncture: pain relief and more

Hand performing acupuncture on woman’s face

Traditionally, acupuncture has been used to treat a wide range of conditions. It has been shown to help people with the following pain conditions:

  • back pain
  • nerve pain or neuralgia
  • fibromyalgia
  • osteoarthritis
  • chemotherapy-induced pain
  • headaches
  • lower back pain
  • menstrual pain
  • labour pain
  • dental pain

A 2019 review suggests that acupuncture can provide modest benefits for some types of pain – particularly chronic lower back pain and headaches. However, the review also states that there is a lack of cohesive evidence demonstrating that acupuncture is effective for other conditions.

In a 2014 clinical study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that acupuncture improved pain outcomes by up to 50%. A 2012 meta-analysis of individual patients’ data suggests that acupuncture reduced pain perception for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache.

Some studies attribute acupuncture’s pain-relieving effects to placebo effects, while others suggest it works by stimulating the release of neurotransmitters. While clinical data remain conflicting, the evidence that acupuncture works for pain is growing.

Aside from pain relief, acupuncture also has other uses. It has been shown to help people with the following:

  • Stress – including anxiety and depression
  • Sleep problems – including insomnia
  • Digestive problems – including bloating or indigestion after eating
  • Pregnancy-related problems – including nausea and morning sickness

Acupuncture works in conjunction with other pain relief options

Young man on his back getting acupuncture treatment

Acupuncture is often combined with other treatments, such as herbal medicine, lifestyle changes, and physical therapy. In addition, some studies suggest that acupuncture can be used in conjunction with common painkillers like acetaminophen.

The combination of acupuncture and common painkillers may be more effective than either treatment alone, but more research is needed to confirm this finding. In some cases, acupuncture may reduce the need for medication.

As with any pain management option, acupuncture should be used only in conjunction with your doctor’s advice. It is also important to remember that there is no one-size-that-fits-all solution in treating pain. Instead, finding a treatment that works best for your needs is important.

For example, acupuncture may be more effective than a massage in treating certain types of pain, like chronic lower back pain. If you are suffering from a chronic pain condition and are already taking medication, there are other alternative treatment options at your disposal:

  • Medical cannabis – Cannabis is considered one of the more effective natural treatments for pain. It can be used to treat both acute and chronic pain conditions, offering benefits that include relief from inflammation and muscle spasms. Pre-clinical and clinical data suggest that cannabis may also help to reduce pain by reducing inflammation, blocking pain signals from reaching the brain, increasing dopamine levels and improving sleep quality.
  • Mindfulness – Mindfulness involves cultivating a state of heightened awareness, focus and attention to the present moment. This can help you to feel more in control over your pain.
  • Yoga – Yoga is a form of exercise that combines physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation. It’s been shown to improve various mental and physical health outcomes, including reducing chronic pain.

Risks associated with acupuncture

Acupuncture is considered a safe treatment for pain and is not associated with serious side effects. However, there are some risks associated with acupuncture:

  1. You should not use acupuncture if you have a heart condition or have recently had surgery, as it can trigger a heart attack or lead to bleeding.
  2. You should not use this treatment if you have an infection or open wounds near the area where acupuncture is performed.
  3. Acupuncture can cause mild side effects, including bruising and bleeding at the insertion site. If your blood pressure drops dramatically after treatment, it may be necessary to give you fluids intravenously.
  4. You may feel lightheaded or nauseous after treatment. In some cases, a mild headache may also occur. These symptoms usually go away within a few hours after treatment.
  5. Used or unclean needles can cause infections. If you have a history of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or AIDS, acupuncture should be done using sterile needles and single-use needles.

Choose a licenced practitioner before proceeding with treatment. A well-experienced acupuncturist will ask several questions to learn more about your symptoms and medical history. They will also examine your body and ensure you are healthy enough for acupuncture treatment.

Conclusion – Acupuncture for Pain Management

Acupuncture began thousands of years ago and proved to be a treatment option for various conditions. It is an alternative method of pain relief that has been practised by qualified practitioners for centuries. More people are turning to this treatment option as more research is done on the benefits of acupuncture.

If you are suffering from pain and other symptoms, you should consider getting acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture can be used in conjunction with other treatments to provide pain relief. You should consult your doctor to see if acupuncture is right for you.

If you’re suffering from chronic or acute pain, you can count on Lyphe to help. At Lyphe, we offer pain therapies in conjunction with medical cannabis’ pain-relieving potential. Book a consultation with us today to learn more about our pain management services and if we can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does acupuncture actually relieve pain?

Yes. Several studies have shown that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for pain. It’s been shown to work for headaches, neck pain, back pain, and other types of chronic pain conditions.

What type of pain does acupuncture help with?

Acupuncture is thought to work for many different types of pain, including:

  • Headache pain
  • Muscle soreness and stiffness (especially after exercise)
  • Stomach cramps and menstrual cramps

How long does acupuncture take to work for pain?

It can take a few weeks for acupuncture to start working. You might need to go to acupuncture sessions three times a week for two months or more before you notice any improvement in your pain symptoms.

Does acupuncture hurt?

Acupuncture needles are very thin and flexible. They’re about the thickness of a strand of hair and can be inserted into your skin without pain.

What happens if acupuncture hits a nerve?

Sometimes, the needles used in acupuncture can hit a nerve. When this happens, you may feel a slight pain or intense sensation.


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