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Acupuncture for Orthopedic Pain and Sports Injuries

What is acupuncture?

acu.jpgAcupuncture is the practice of inserting very thin metal needles into the skin to stimulate points on the body. Sometimes electrical current is then passed through the needles.  Acupuncture has been used to treat medical conditions and to promote health for thousands of years in China and other parts of Asia. In the United States, acupuncture is a part of complementary and alternative medicine.

Hall Health Center offers acupuncture through its Physical Therapy clinic for orthopedic pain (pain associated with bones, muscles, ligaments or connective tissue) and sports injuries.

What does the research tell us about acupuncture?

Millions of Americans use acupuncture to manage chronic conditions and treat new ones, as well as to improve overall health.  However, the science behind acupuncture is controversial because it is difficult to design large, rigorous studies to test its effectiveness. When investigating whether a treatment method works, it is important to have a "control" group as a basis for comparison. In the case of acupuncture, this may entail comparing true acupuncture to "sham" treatments to see whether any observed improvement can be explained by the placebo effect.

Another aspect of the debate around acupuncture is known as the "nocebo" effect, the converse of the placebo phenomenon. There is some evidence that any skepticism or fear that acupuncture patients have about the practice negates any positive outcomes.

Chronic musculoskeletal pain

Studies have investigated whether acupuncture is effective in reducing pain associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and low-back, neck and knee pain. Some of this research has found that acupuncture provides pain relief, with study participants who received actual treatment reporting less pain than those of who received simulated treatment. A 2012 study described in this New York Times article reviewed 27 studies that met standards of scientific rigor and concluded that there is strong evidence that acupuncture can help with chronic pain.

Are there side effects and risks to acupuncture treatment?

Few problems have been reported associated with acupuncture treatment. However, needles that are improperly sterilized or inserted could result in infection or organ puncture. Your acupuncture practitioner should open a new set of packaged needles at each treatment.

Acupuncture needles are regulated by the federal government; they must be sterile, non-toxic and labeled for single use.

What to expect from a visit to an acupuncturist

Just like a provider of Western medicine, your acupuncture provider should take care to learn about your medical history and concerns. If you are a Hall Health patient, you will be referred for acupuncture by your primary care provider, who will send information about your medical history to our acupuncturist.

If you are going to a non-Hall Health Center provider, your first visit should include questions about your health and health-related behavior. You will also be asked for the names and dosages of any medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.

Your acupuncture provider will then describe the recommended course of treatment and prepare sterilized needles for insertion. You may be asked to fully or partially disrobe. Needles are inserted quickly, and most people report feeling little to no pain. The provider will make sure you feel comfortable and then may leave to room for some time. You might feel energized or relaxed by the treatment.

Your provider may ask you to return for repeated treatments.

Insurance and acupuncture

Many health insurance plans provide coverage of acupuncture visits, including UW's Graduate Assistant Insurance Program (GAIP) and most UW employee health plans. Contact your insurance company to inquire if you have coverage and which providers are in network. If you do not have coverage and cost is a concern, you may be able to find an acupuncturist outside of the University of Washington medical system who offers services on a sliding fee scale based on income.

Additional resources