What is Medical Acupuncture? Is it Different from Ordinary Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a very old medical art, and there are many approaches to learning and practicing it. Medical acupuncture is the term used to describe acupuncture performed by a doctor trained and licensed in Western medicine who has also had thorough training in acupuncture as a specialty practice. Such a doctor can use one or the other approach, or a combination of both as the need arises, to treat an illness.

What is the Scope of Medical Acupuncture

Medical acupuncture is a system which can influence three areas of health care:

  • promotion of health and well-being
  • prevention of illness
  • treatment of various medical conditions

While acupuncture is often associated with pain control, in the hands of a well-trained practitioner it has much broader applications. Acupuncture can be effective as the only treatment used, or as the support or adjunct to other medical treatment forms in many medical and surgical disorders. The World Health Organization recognizes the use of acupuncture in the treatment of a wide range of medical problems, including:

  • Digestive disorders: gastritis and hyper-acidity, spastic colon, constipation, diarrhea.
  • Respiratory disorders: sinusitis, sore throat, bronchitis, asthma, recurrent chest infections.
  • Neurological and muscular disorders: headaches, facial tics, neck pain, rib neuritis, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow, various forms of tendinitis, low back pain, sciatica, osteoarthritis.
  • Urinary, menstrual, and reproductive problems.

Acupuncture is particularly useful in resolving physical problems related to tension and stress and emotional conditions.

Acupuncture for Pain

Chronic Low Back Pain

Chronic musculoskeletal pain syndromes are the most common reasons patients try acupuncture. Of these, chronic low back pain is the most prevalent. Several prospective trials and systematic literature reviews or meta-analyses have attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture.Several RCTs found that acupuncture and minimal or sham acupuncture are effective in relieving pain compared with wait-list controls or conventional therapy. Per-cutaneous nerve stimulation is a nontraditional modern electroacupuncture technique that shows great promise; it is commonly used by physician acupuncturists for back and neck pain.

Chronic Neck and Shoulder Pain

Chronic pain syndromes affecting the neck and shoulder are commonly treated with acupuncture. A Cochrane systematic review of acupuncture for neck disorders concluded that acupuncture relieves pain better than sham treatments, inactive treatments, or wait-list control status.


Acupuncture has been studied in the settings of chronic daily idiopathic or tension headaches and migraine prophylaxis. Most of the published data relate to chronic daily or frequent headache pain syndromes. A Cochrane systematic review of acupuncture for chronic tension-type and migraine headaches concluded that the existing evidence supports the value of acupuncture. Acupuncture was found to improve headaches and health-related quality of life when added to medical management in patients with chronic daily headache.

Other Conditions

A recent systematic review supports using acupuncture in patients with postoperative pain. Other promising outcomes have been reported for cancer pain, lateral epicondylitis pain, chronic prostate and pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, obstetric labor pain, and pain from irritable bowel syndrome.

Is Acupuncture Covered By Health Insurance

Some insurance companies currently cover acupuncture costs, other companies do not yet recognize the value of acupuncture. Each health policy must be reviewed to determine acupuncture benefits. More and more insurance companies are recognizing the value of providing coverage for medical acupuncture services. You can help by insisting that your insurance company offer you reimbursement for medically indicated acupuncture treatments before you accept their policy.