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Acupuncture Pain Management: A Guide to Relief


For individuals dealing with injuries and pain conditions, can incorporating acupuncture into a treatment plan help alleviate and manage pain?

Acupuncture Pain Management: A Guide to Relief

Acupuncture Pain Management

Pain management techniques include physical therapy, medications, cold therapies, chiropractic, and massages. One method that is growing is acupuncture. (World Health Organization. 2021) According to a report by the World Health Organization, acupuncture is the most commonly used form of traditional medicine practiced globally. (World Health Organization. 2021) More than 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered annually in the U.S. (Jason Jishun Hao, Michele Mittelman. 2014)

What Is It?

Acupuncture is a medical practice that involves placing solid but super thin needles at specific points in the body to treat certain health issues. They can be used on their own or stimulated with electric currents, called electroacupuncture. Acupuncture originated in China about 3,000 years ago and is known as traditional Chinese medicine or TCM. In more recent years, the practice has gained acceptance and demand worldwide. (Jason Jishun Hao, Michele Mittelman. 2014)

How Does It Work?

Acupuncture pain management works by balancing the flow of qi/chi/energy, which moves through meridians, or channels in the body. By inserting needles into specific points along these channels, balance is reestablished for overall health and well-being. When the energy is imbalanced due to internal and external stressors that can include injuries, underlying conditions, unhealthy diet, and stress, individuals can present with symptoms and illness. Using diagnostic techniques and comprehensive interviews, practitioners can determine which organ systems and meridian channels need addressing to restore function. There are more than 2,000 acupoints in the body. (Johns Hopkins Medicine. 2024) Each point has its own purpose and function: some increase energy, others decrease it, helping balance the body to support healing and recovery. Acupuncture pain management goes beyond energy healing and can help alleviate pain by stimulating nerves, muscles, and fascia/connective tissue, regulating immune response, nervous system response, lymphatic flow, and increasing muscle relaxation.


Different types of acupuncture have been modified in training and styles, but all involve needling into certain points and include:

Orthopedic/Dry Needling

  • This technique combines Traditional Chinese Medicine and structure manipulation to treat pain, tissue injuries, imbalances in the body, and other general systemic disorders.

Five Element Style

  • This is a spiritual and emotional technique that uses the five elements of nature, including wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, to transfer energy, creating balance in the body.

Japanese Style

  • uses similar techniques to TCM but uses a more subtle approach, such as using fewer needles or inserting them at lower depths in the body.


  • This technique uses both techniques from Chinese and Japanese acupuncture.
  • Practitioners may use more needles and different kinds of needles, like a copper variety, instead of the standard stainless steel type.
  • This type of acupuncture uses only acupoints on the hand to treat different areas of the body.


  • This is similar to Korean acupuncture but relies on certain points in the ear to treat other areas of the body.
  • The goal is to overcome imbalances and disharmonies.


  • This technique treats pain indirectly.
  • Practitioners place needles in spots other than the area of discomfort.
  • For example, practitioners may place needles around the elbows for knee pain or the lower legs for shoulder pain.


  • This form of therapy stimulates different acupoints without using needles.
  • Practitioners use precise finger placements, hands, or other tools and essential oils to apply pressure over specific points to enhance energy flow.

Providers can combine and use various forms based on an individual’s needs.


One analysis of more than 2,000 scientific reviews of acupuncture therapies found it to be effective for post-stroke aphasia, neck, shoulder, lower back pain, muscle pain, fibromyalgia pain, lactation issues after delivery, vascular dementia symptoms, and allergy symptoms. (Liming Lu et al., 2022) A study on mice by neuroscientists found that electroacupuncture can decrease inflammation. (Shenbin Liu et al., 2020) The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health found that acupuncture can be helpful for: (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 2022)

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Back and neck pain
  • Sciatica
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Chronic pelvic pain syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Improves sleep
  • Stress
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Menopausal hot flashes
  • Post-surgery pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing treatment
  • Chronic prostatitis
  • Digestion
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Infertility
  • Asthma
  • Quitting smoking
  • Depression


When the treatment is performed by a highly trained, licensed, and certified acupuncturist, it is very safe. The most common serious adverse events were pneumothorax/collapsed lung, cardiovascular problems, and fainting, which in some cases caused trauma, like fractures. (Petra Bäumler et al., 2021) There are some short-term risks associated with acupuncture, including:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness for individuals that have not eaten or fear of needles.

Serious side effects associated with acupuncture, like a punctured lung or infection, are very rare. For individuals that have a metal allergy, infection, or open wound in the area where the needles will be inserted, it is recommended to avoid acupuncture. Individuals who have a bleeding disorder, are taking any medicines like an anticoagulant, or are pregnant, should talk to the acupuncturist before beginning a treatment plan.

What to Expect

Everyone’s visit will be tailored to their specific needs, and the first visit will likely last an hour or two. The initial evaluation will include a full medical/health history. The individual will spend a few minutes discussing concerns and health goals with the acupuncturist. Individuals will be asked to lie on the treatment table so the practitioner can access their limbs, back, and abdomen. After inserting needles, they will stay in place for about 20 to 30 minutes. At this time, individuals can relax, meditate, sleep, listen to music, etc. The practitioner may monitor if and how the pulse has changed and add or remove needles. After the needles are removed, the practitioner will determine the course of treatment. Depending on how chronic or severe the condition is, they may recommend several acupuncture pain management treatments over the course of several weeks.

Chiropractic Care For Healing After Trauma


World Health Organization. (2021). WHO benchmarks for the practice of acupuncture.

Hao, J. J., & Mittelman, M. (2014). Acupuncture: past, present, and future. Global advances in health and medicine, 3(4), 6–8. doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2014.042

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2024). Acupuncture.

Lu, L., Zhang, Y., Tang, X., Ge, S., Wen, H., Zeng, J., Wang, L., Zeng, Z., Rada, G., Ávila, C., Vergara, C., Tang, Y., Zhang, P., Chen, R., Dong, Y., Wei, X., Luo, W., Wang, L., Guyatt, G., Tang, C., … Xu, N. (2022). Evidence on acupuncture therapies is underused in clinical practice and health policy. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 376, e067475. doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2021-067475

Liu, S., Wang, Z. F., Su, Y. S., Ray, R. S., Jing, X. H., Wang, Y. Q., & Ma, Q. (2020). Somatotopic Organization and Intensity Dependence in Driving Distinct NPY-Expressing Sympathetic Pathways by Electroacupuncture. Neuron, 108(3), 436–450.e7. doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2020.07.015

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2022). Acupuncture: what you need to know.

Bäumler, P., Zhang, W., Stübinger, T., & Irnich, D. (2021). Acupuncture-related adverse events: systematic review and meta-analyses of prospective clinical studies. BMJ open, 11(9), e045961. doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-045961

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Professional Scope of Practice *

The information herein on "Acupuncture Pain Management: A Guide to Relief" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

email: coach@elpasofunctionalmedicine.com

Licensed as a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) in Texas & New Mexico*
Texas DC License # TX5807, New Mexico DC License # NM-DC2182

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN* CIFM*, IFMCP*, ATN*, CCST
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