Ancient technique using needles provides relief to millions, though its process remains mysterious


Who’s at risk:

Acupuncture has been getting a lot of good press lately, from celebrities like Fergie and Penelope Cruz as well as from researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on the upper East Side, who found it could help reduce chronic pain.

The treatment is not a new procedure. “Acupuncture is a 3,000-year-old medical technique that involves putting needles in certain parts of the body,” says Danesh. “The overall goal is to restore balance and, ultimately, to reduce pain.” About 3 million Americans will receive an acupuncture treatment this year.

Eastern medicine holds that everything in life is a balance between yin and yang. “From an acupuncture point of view, pain is a sign of imbalance, usually due to external, lifestyle stressors such as pregnancy, aging, weather, diet … almost anything,” says Danesh.

“Acupuncture heals by rebalancing a person’s life energy, or qi.” Although studies performed from the perspective of Western medicine increasingly substantiate that acupuncture does work, this research hasn’t been able to show how it works.

Patients with many different ailments find acupuncture brings relief. “Candidates for acupuncture are patients who have headaches, postsurgical pain, herniated discs, shoulder pain, arthritis pain, sports injuries or any other type of pain,” says Danesh. “It can also be used for fertility treatments, allergies and sinus infections.”

Acupuncture is extremely safe. “It’s appropriate for all ages, and even children can tolerate acupuncture, unless needles freak them out,” says Danesh.

“It’s important to see a licensed practitioner who uses disposable needles,” he adds. Reusing needles can spread blood-born infections, and inexperienced acupuncturists could puncture an organ. But the most common side effect, with a licensed medical professional, is simply feeling groggy immediately afterward.

Signs and symptoms:

Because many different types of pain can respond to acupuncture, patients and doctors should work together to determine the underlying cause of the pain. “Most patients identify it simply as pain: ‘It hurts in my neck, it hurts when I do this,’ ” says Danesh. “So the first step is to figure out why it hurts in the terms of Western medicine and the musculoskeleton to see if treatments like physical therapy or injections are beneficial. Then we evaluate whether acupuncture would be beneficial.”

Not all patients are willing to try acupuncture. “If you’re open to it, then you can test just a few needles to see what it feels like,” says Danesh. “Deciding how to treat chronic pain using both Western and Eastern medicine is incredibly individualized.”

Traditional treatment:

The first question most patients ask about acupuncture is, “Does it hurt?”

“There can be some discomfort, but mostly you’ll notice a sense of calmness and some numbness around the areas of pain,” says Danesh. “Most people describe feeling lightheaded or even euphoric after the treatment.”

Acupuncture uses extremely thin needles, about half the size of a paper clip. “Depending on the problem, we use at least four needles, and often somewhere between 15 and 20,” says Danesh. “We insert the needles around the pain and usually in the arms and legs, then leave them in for 15 to 30 minutes.” The acupuncturist also can add heat or electricity to the needles if called for.

To solidify the acupuncture treatment, patients have to abide by a strict regimen for 24 hours after the procedure. “We ask you to avoid spicy, heavy foods — nothing at extreme temperatures (hot or cold), no alcohol and no sex for 24 hours,” says Danesh. “I usually start patients off with acupuncture twice a week, then wean them down to once a week, once a month, and eventually once every three to six months.”

Many patients report that acupuncture changes their lives. “After three months of acupuncture, patients have gone from daily medication use to being pain and medication-free, and alleviating depression,” says Danesh. “Other patients simply report feeling more awake and alert because they no longer feel burdened by pain.”

Research breakthroughs:

In just the past decade, acupuncture has won acceptance as a mainstream treatment. “Thanks to current research, there’s a new consensus that acupuncture works,” says Danesh. “NIH (the National Institutes of Health) is supporting acupuncture for lower back pain, headaches and arthritis pain. We know it works — the question that remains is how.”

Questions for your doctor:

If you’re considering acupuncture, ask, “Can you point me toward literature on my issue and acupuncture treatment?” The most common questions are, “Does it hurt?” and “How will I feel afterward?” “Acupuncture taps into something mystical or unknown,” says Danesh. “Being open to acupuncture has helped me to provide patients with infinitely more than I could have with Western medicine alone.”

What you can do.

Get informed.

NIH offers acupuncture information for both consumers and health professionals (

Choose a licensed acupuncturist.

“You want a place with clean needles in a clean room. This is not the time to find the cheapest option,” notes Dr. Houman Danesh. Your primary care physician should be able to give you a referral.

Observe the 24-hour waiting period.

For one day after acupuncture, be sure to abstain from hot, heavy, cold or spicy foods, alcohol and sex.

Give it a fair try.

You’re using acupuncture to change the way the body works, so 5-6 sessions are necessary to give it a full chance.

By the numbers:

3 million Americans a year get acupuncture.

30%-40% of American adults use some type of complementary medicine.

As of March 2013, there are 18,890 peer-reviewed articles on acupuncture.

Almost one-third of those articles have been published in the past five years.

The average session uses 15-20 needles

Source: Dr. Houman Danesh

 Originally posted by the New York Daily News