Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Acupuncture Overview


Acupuncture Styles and Related Techniques

Traditional acupuncture involves placing needles at specific pressure points throughout the body. Several different variations of this technique exist, however. Some practitioners add heat or electrical stimulation to enhance the treatment effects, while others substitute pressure for needles.

Electroacupuncture sends an electrical current through the needles to stimulate pressure points during acupuncture.

Sonopuncture applies sound waves to the acupuncture points. The vibrations stimulate pressure points in a more subtle way than needles. Sonopuncture is often combined with acupuncture.

Acupressure follows the same principle as acupuncture, but it uses pressure rather than needles. The therapist presses on the patient's acupoints with his or her fingers, and holds for a few seconds.

moxa paper
Photo courtesy of Dreamstime
Moxa wrapped in paper prepared to be lit
and placed to the skin.

Moxibustion uses heat to stimulate acupoints. The heat is generated by burning an herb called moxa, which comes from the mugwort plant. There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. In direct moxibustion, a piece of the herb about the size of a grain of rice is placed directly on the skin and burned at an acupuncture point. Because this can be painful and can leave scars, many practitioners today opt for indirect moxibustion, in which the piece of moxa is wrapped in paper, lit and held close to the skin. Sometimes moxa is wrapped around the acupuncture needles and lit to add extra stimulation to the acupuncture treatment.

Cupping places heated jars or cups over the skin. Suction pulls the skin into the cups, creating a vacuum-like effect that stimulates the acupuncture points.

What Conditions can Acupuncture Treat?

Acupuncture is used to treat several different medical and psychological conditions, with varying degrees of success. These conditions include:

Addiction

Asthma
Bronchitis (acute)

Cancer pain and nausea control after chemotherapy

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Chest infections

Constipation

Diarrhea
Headaches (including migraines)

Fibromyalgia

Low-back pain
Menstrual cramps

Osteoarthritis

Post-surgical pain and nausea
Shoulder pain

Sinusitis

Spastic colon
Stress and anxiety

Stroke rehabilitation

Tennis elbow
Urinary problems

Acupuncture can either be used on its own, or combined with traditional medical treatments (such as surgery or medication) or alternative remedies (such as chiropractic manipulation and herbal therapies).


More to Explore