Acupuncture is a type of traditional Chinese medicine that involves inserting small, thin needles into the skin in attempt to provide pain relief and reduce stress, among other potential health benefits. The theory behind the practice of acupuncture centers around balancing the body's flow of energy. This flow of energy is called chi (chee) by those who practice acupuncture. Practitioners believe that an individual's chi flows through pathways in their body called meridians. The needles placed during acupuncture are thought to help re-balance the recipient's chi, potentially providing pain relief and other health benefits along with it. The points where the needles are placed are often places where muscles, nerves, and connective tissue can be stimulated, according to practitioners of Western medicine. This stimulation may be what provides relief.1,2

Common reasons an individual may seek acupuncture

Conditions it may provide relief to include, but are not limited to:

How acupuncture may help for endometriosis

There is limited research on acupuncture and its relationship to endometriosis symptom relief, however, several studies have suggested that acupuncture may reduce endometriosis-related pain and provide other benefits to women who try it.3,4 The reason for this relief may come from acupuncture's ability to potentially modulate hormones, increase blood flow, reduce inflammation, impact the body's immune system, and impact the body's pain response system.3,4 However, much more research is needed to better understand these mechanisms and acupuncture's ability to potentially provide endometriosis symptom relief.

What to expect during an acupuncture session

Acupuncture sessions generally last 30 to 60 minutes in length and involve the placement of roughly five to 20 needles. Typically, needle insertion causes little to no pain or discomfort since the needles are small and very thin. Your practitioner may manipulate the needles once they are placed. Some types of acupuncture involve applying mild electrical pulses or heat to the needles. Your practitioner will let you know if these applications will take place during your session. The needles are strategically placed based on what you are seeking relief for. For example, a woman receiving acupuncture for endometriosis-related pelvic pain may have a majority of needles placed at or around her pelvis and abdomen. Ask your practitioner where you should expect the needles to be placed during your session.

Depending on needle placement, it may be necessary to undress. Once the needles are placed, they typically stay in place for up to 20 minutes before they are removed. Each individual's response to acupuncture may vary from immediate relaxation, to fully energized post-session. Sessions may take place anywhere from one to two times a week to once a month. It may take time to feel the effects of acupuncture, and some individuals may experience no change post-session at all.1

Things to note about acupuncture

Acupuncture is not intended to be used as an alternative to traditional treatment options, however, it can be used in addition to other prescribed therapies to potentially provide further relief. If you are considering trying acupuncture, talk with your healthcare provider to determine if this is an option for you and to get recommendations for reputable practitioners in your area. Acupuncture is not for everyone. Individuals who are pregnant, have bleeding disorders, or who have pacemakers may not be able to undergo acupuncture.1,2 Additionally, it is important to research acupuncturists before undergoing a session. There are training certifications that acupuncturist's may need to possess depending on where you live, and different acupuncturist's may charge different prices. Friends, family, and medical professionals may be able to provide you with suggestions on safe, reliable, and trained acupuncturists in your area.

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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: June 2020