Acupuncture Overview

How Safe is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is considered to be very safe. In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began classifying acupuncture needles as medical instruments, and it now requires that acupuncturists use only sterile, disposable needles. Also, acupuncturists will swab the acupuncture areas first with an antiseptic, so there is very little risk of infection. It's very important to visit a licensed practitioner, however, because poorly sterilized needles can transmit infectious diseases.

The most common side effects with acupuncture are soreness, slight bleeding, irritation or bruising at the needle site. Some people may feel tired or lightheaded after a session. In very rare cases, more serious complications can occur if the acupuncture needles pierce the kidney, lungs or another organ.

Despite its general safety, acupuncture isn't for everyone. People who have a bleeding disorder or who are taking blood thinners (such as Heparin and Coumadin) should not have the treatment. It's also not recommended for people who have pacemakers, implanted electrical devices or infusion pumps.

Finding an Acupuncturist

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Make sure your acupuncturist is licensed.
Locating an acupuncturist should start with a visit to your medical doctor. Your physician can diagnose your problem and determine whether acupuncture might be helpful for treating it. If your doctor thinks acupuncture might be effective, ask for a referral to a licensed acupuncturist.

When it comes to picking a practitioner, you have two choices: a medical doctor who is trained in acupuncture, or a certified acupuncturist. There are approximately 3,000 doctors who perform acupuncture, and 6,500 licensed acupuncturists practicing in the United States.

About 40 states have training standards for acupuncture certification (for individual state requirements or to find a licensed acupuncturist in your area, visit the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Generally, medical doctors are required to have 200 to 300 hours of acupuncture training in addition to their medical degrees, while certified acupuncturists must have 2,000 to 3,000 hours of training in an accredited master's degree program. Most states also require that acupuncturists pass the board exam from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).