In recent years acupuncture has enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity and acceptance. Just the other day, my mother called to tell me "Oprah's talking about acupuncture on her show today!" Despite Oprah's coverage, the questions I hear over and over again about acupuncture tell me that what I do for a living is still not well-understood by everyone. What follows are my answers to the questions and apprehensions I have heard over and over again during my many years of practice.

1. Acupuncture needles hurt! Compared with the needles used to take blood or deliver medicine, acupuncture needles are many times thinner, solid rather than hollow, flexible rather than rigid and rounded at the tip. An acupuncture needle is inserted quickly through the skin's surface until you feel tingling, warmth or pressure in the area of the needle. After a few minutes, these sensations fade away and you are left with a feeling of heaviness and deep relaxation.

2. Acupuncture only works if you believe in it. While keeping a positive attitude is likely to help you get well, how and why acupuncture works is not so simple. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), studies have shown that acupuncture may alter brain chemistry in ways that affect the body's immune reactions, blood pressure regulation, blood flow and temperature, and it may aid the activity of endorphins (the body's own painkilling chemicals) and immune cells "at specific sites in the body". According to traditional Chinese medical theory, acupuncture restores the free flow of Chi (energy) and restores balance to the Yin and Yang forces of the body (blood and energy, hot and cold, estrogen and progesterone, etc.).

3. Acupuncture is only good for treating pain. It is true that pain responds very well to acupuncture. Low back pain, sciatica, neck pain, shoulder pain, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, headaches and other kinds of pain can all be treated successfully with acupuncture. But the aim of acupuncture treatment is to bring balance and harmony to the whole person, so can also be an excellent treatment for insomnia, fatigue, digestive problems, menopause, menstrual disorders, infertility, MS, Lupus, and patients undergoing Western treatments for cancer, Hepatitis or HIV.

4. Acupuncturists aren't licensed medical professionals. This may have been true 35 years ago when acupuncture first became available in the U.S., but today acupuncture is a licensed, regulated profession. A Google search of "acupuncture in hospitals" reveals that a number of hospitals, including Children's, Massachusetts General, Concord and Elliot Hospitals have at least one acupuncturist on staff. To be licensed in New Hampshire, for example, acupuncturists must complete a 3 to 4-year graduate program in Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and pass a series of national certification exams. Like other professionals, to maintain our licensure, we pursue continuing education, maintain national board certification and adhere to a strict code of medical ethics.

5. Insurance doesn't cover acupuncture, so I can't afford to try it. Don't be so sure about that! In the last year, I’ve seen two major insurance carriers start to cover acupuncture—something I wasn’t sure I’d ever see in my state. Many of us offer discounts for people who pay out of pocket and those who practice Community Acupuncture (simple treatments offered in a group setting) charge about the same as an insurance co-payment. Most people find that their symptoms begin to improve within the first 4 to 6 visits, and most are significantly better after about 12 visits. Once the improvements to your health are stable, your acupuncturist will suggest a treatment schedule that will maintain those improvements and fit your budget.

If you still have questions about acupuncture, there are lots of other great resources on the web:,, and, of course, my own website

Author's Bio: 

Christina Wolf has been a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist in Southern New Hampshire since 1999. She specializes in the treatment of pain, infertility and women's health issues.