Acupuncture is an Eastern medical therapy that employs a strategy of inserting filiform (solid, instead of hollow) needles into specific points in order to maintain the flow and balance of Qi in the body, which activates the body’s natural and instinctive healing capability.
For most members of the scientific community and the general public, acupuncture is likely the most recognized therapeutic type of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Historical records as old as 3,500 years demonstrate acupuncture’s significance in providing relief for a variety of physical and other ailments, as well as having been utilized to support disease prevention and the promotion of health and wellness.
In the Eastern theory of medicine, the main therapeutic goal of acupuncture is encouraging the human body towards achieving homeostasis, which is defined as a natural state of balance in physiological operations and organ function. Acupuncture accomplishes homeostasis when Qi (pronounced “chee”), which is defined as “energy” or “vital force”, flows smoothly and unobstructed through a system of channels called meridians, thus helping to regulate the body’s activities.
In Eastern medicine, the body’s many systems such as the circulatory, cardiac, pulmonary, lymphatic, endocrine, nervous, and digestive systems all depend upon Qi’s smooth and balanced movement through these channels, from the microscopic cellular level to the organ level. Ultimately, the workings of Qi culminate in a harmonious unity of optimum functioning at the whole-body level. Consequently, homeostasis of the body and mind is achieved, allowing for such things as better sleep, better mood, improved lung function with proper intake of oxygen, optimal perfusion of oxygen into tissues, proper blood flow throughout the body and just having an overall improvement in health and wellness.
The Science of Acupuncture
Past and current research in the field of acupuncture has provided insights into how acupuncture works. Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that acupuncture elicits changes in the brain that correlate with neurological effects.
Acupuncture affects the limbic and para-limbic networks in the brain and has a deep hemodynamic response, which is influenced by the psychophysical response. Acupuncture also stimulates the nervous system and improves conduction and communication between nerves. This improved functioning of the nervous system stimulates neurotransmitter actions and the release of the body’s natural endorphins and other opioids. For example, serotonin may be released following acupuncture, therefore helping patients feel more relaxed and sustain a sense of well-being that lasts for hours thereafter, if not longer. Research has also shown acupuncture’s ability in relieving myofascial pain by releasing muscular trigger points with ensuing concomitant anti-inflammatory effects.
Acupuncture is one of the most popular and highly utilized services offered at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine. It is most effective with regular and frequent treatments, but more specific guidelines for follow-up therapies should be discussed during your initial consultation with an acupuncturist.
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Does Acupuncture Take the Place of Conventional Medicine?
No. Acupuncture is not a substitute for conventional medical diagnosis and treatment. Acupuncture is one of many complementary medicine therapies at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative Medicine.
“Complementary” vs. “Alternative” Medicine
An important factor to consider is distinguishing between the terms “Complementary” and “Alternative”. This distinction is crucial as it relates to how acupuncture fits into a patient’s total healthcare experience at Cleveland Clinic's Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine.
- Complementary suggests working together in order to provide the best of all possibilities, supplementing mutual needs and/or offsetting mutual deficiencies. Complementary medicine means working alongside, and in conjunction with, the mainstream conventional medical system. This provides a holistic model of care with therapies for body, mind, and spirit. It is here, in a complementary role, that acupuncture is important and shows its greatest strength.
- Alternative gives the implication of a choice between two mutually exclusive possibilities. Under this heading, Alternative medicine appears at times to promote treatments in place of the standard mainstream treatments for conditions such as cancer, or any other serious illness. This “us” vs. “them” perspective of Alternative medicine vs. mainstream conventional medicine has a negative effect on the patient who might benefit from both, and not just one or the other.
As an example, patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments may use acupuncture to lessen possible side effects associated with cancer treatments. Acupuncture is also immensely supportive and helpful when used in conjunction with orthopedics and physical therapy for rehabilitation from injury or surgery.
What We Treat
Acupuncture helps treat numerous diseases and conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO) endorses acupuncture, and clinical studies have shown it to be a beneficial treatment for many conditions, including:
- Acute and chronic pain
- Lower back pain
- Neck pain
- Knee pain
- Elbow Pain
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Post-operative Recovery
- Reduce the need for Opioids after surgery
- Neuralgia / Neuropathy - peripheral, diabetic, shingles
- Dental pain
- Facial pain
- Tension headaches
Cancer-related side effects
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy side effects
- Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting
- Cancer-related pain
- Chemo-therapy-induced neuropathy
- Dry mouth
Digestive / gastric conditions
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Women’s health issues
- Hot flashes
- Pelvic floor pain
- Menstrual pain
- Infertility /IVF
- Premenopausal / menopause symptoms
- Morning sickness
- Breech positioning
Mental & Emotional Health
- Anxiety and depression
- Stress management
- Insomnia/sleep issues
High and Low Blood Pressure
Substance Abuse and Withdrawal
- Opioid withdrawal
Stimulates the immune system
What to Expect
At the beginning of your first session, your acupuncturist will be able to discuss your chief complaint by taking your history with physical examination elements, and then assessing your state of wellness through observation of your tongue and palpation of your pulse.
Although all acupuncturists are very similar in their academic and clinical backgrounds, each acupuncturist will have their own style, personality, and prerogative for treatment choices as it relates to each patient’s needs.
The initial evaluation and treatment may take up to a full hour to complete, with subsequent sessions ranging between 45-60 minutes, with the needles in position for at least 20 minutes.
What Happens During an Acupuncture Visit?
During a treatment, patients lie comfortably on a padded table with relaxing music playing in the background. All acupuncture needles that are used at the Cleveland Clinic are regulated by the FDA, pre-packaged, sterile, and disposable (which means that the needles are only used once and then discarded after treatment). The needles are very thin, roughly as narrow as a human hair.
The treatment itself involves inserting needles of varying lengths into certain points or areas of the body which are specific to different conditions. The number of needles utilized will vary from patient to patient but usually ranges on average between 10-25 needles (the number of needles used will primarily depend on the patient’s constitution or overall case history as well as the simplicity or complexity of the patient’s current condition or disease state).
When the needle is inserted into a point or area on the body, many patients report feeling a light pinch with very little discomfort, if any. As the needle is retained in position, some patients may also feel the sensations of tingling, dull achiness, or pressure at the needle site. This is completely normal and is a consequence of “activating Qi” (which is a healing response according to Chinese medical theory).
During the treatment, the acupuncturist may perform needle manipulation, which is the gentle moving or twirling of the needle in order to further stimulate the therapeutic response. If warranted, electrical stimulation may also be applied to intensify this response.
Once the needles are in place, they are retained for a minimum of 20 minutes. During this time, many patients experience a deep relaxation effect that elicits calmness or even restful sleep that promotes a sense of rejuvenation.
What Happens After the Acupuncture Treatment?
After the treatment, the needles are removed and disposed of immediately into a biohazard sharp’s container. Bleeding from acupuncture is a rare after effect, but it does sometimes happen. If this does occur, it is a tiny pin prick bleed (i.e. a dot of blood) that comes to the surface; this is resolved simply by placing minimal or necessary pressure over the site, then cleanly wiping it away without incident.
Finally, the acupuncturist will devise a personalized follow-up treatment plan based on your specific health needs. A typical follow-up schedule for many patients might be once a week for a few weeks, and then reassessing thereafter. The number of treatments depends on the condition being treated and its severity. Your acupuncturist will be able to provide you with more information following your initial consult and treatment.
Patients end their visit and return to their normal daily routine generally feeling a sense of calm and comfort.
- Search the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine website for a licensed acupuncturist in your area.
- Learn more about the Acupuncture providers at Cleveland Clinic.
Appointments & Locations
Acupuncture treatments are offered at many of our locations throughout Northeast Ohio. To make an appointment, please call 216.448.4325.
Private & Shared Acupuncture Treatment Locations
Cleveland Clinic Lyndhurst Campus
1950 Richmond Road
Lyndhurst, OH 44124
Private Acupuncture Treatment Locations
Cleveland Clinic Main Campus
9500 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44195
Amherst Family Health Center
5172 Leavitt Road
Lorain, OH 44053
Broadview Heights Medical Center
2001 East Royalton Road
Broadview Heights, Ohio 44147
Lakewood Family Health Center
14601 Detroit Ave.
Lakewood , Ohio 44107
Strongsville Family Health and Surgery Center
16761 South Park Center
Strongsville, Ohio 44136
Twinsburg Family Health & Surgery Center
8701 Darrow Road
Twinsburg, OH 44087
Shared Acupuncture Treatment Locations
Avon - Richard E. Jacobs Health Center
33100 Cleveland Clinic Boulevard
Avon, Ohio 44011