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Acupuncture for Musculoskeletal Pain

Acupuncture needles inserted into the ear to treat surgical pain.

Acupuncture is an ancient form of healing in traditional Chinese medicine, in which small needles are lightly inserted into points of the body. It is used to provide pain relief, as well as to treat chronic and acute diseases, including musculoskeletal conditions.

Although the practice predates recorded history, evidence suggests that, beginning around 2,500 years ago, Chinese scholars developed modern acupuncture by defining a formalized system of pathways through the body, called meridians, which are used for diagnosis and treatment. The points located on the meridians are ultimately designed to balance the body’s life energy or vital force known as “qi” (life energy or vital force, sometimes spelled “chi,” “ch’i” or “ki”).

Modern theories on acupuncture indicate that the needle placements stimulate the nervous system to increase the natural release of endorphins, which mitigate pain. Other evidence suggests that acupuncture may also produce effects in the circulatory and lymphatic systems, as well as in small pockets of fluids inside musculoskeletal fascia.

Acupuncture is being used increasingly as a complement to traditional western medicine in the treatment of rheumatic conditions, and in surgical settings. During surgery, acupuncture by a trained practitioner can raise a patient's endorphin levels to mitigate anticipated surgical pain and to decrease anxiety. Fine needles are inserted into the body to maximize emotional and physical well-being, which is essential for a good surgical outcome. Acupuncture is also beneficial for pain control and can also help with many of the other side effects of surgery including postoperative nausea/vomiting, constipation, urinary retention, and headache.

HSS Minute: Intraoperative Acupuncture for Low Dose Total Knee Arthroplasty

In this video, learn how HSS doctors are exploring the use of acupuncture during knee replacement to reduce the need for opioids after surgery.

Acupuncture for Musculoskeletal Pain Success Stories

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