Acupuncture is a special method of treatment used by the acupuncturist to stimulate certain functions of the body. This technique includes insertion of very thin and gentle needles in different locations on the skin. The needles are sterile and disposable. In the hands of a licensed and experienced practitioner, acupuncture can reduce or increase certain functions of the body. In many cases it is used to reduce pain, inflammation, stress, or anxiety. It is also used to increase certain physical or mental functions, such as digestive function, fatigue,reproduction functions, in the case of infertility, and many others.
Does it work?
Acupuncture is a very effective method of treatment. As with every method of treatment, the level of effectiveness is determined according to the experience of the practitioner and the number of treatments. According to World Health Organization, acupuncture was found to be an effective treatment for 91 health conditions, including pain, arthritis, depression, fibromyalgia, and female infertility.
In the last 50 years, acupuncture has been studied to understand and determine its effectiveness. In one of these studies conducted in Italy, a team of investigators examined the effectiveness of acupuncture versus a variety of medications in treating migraines. The results revealed that patients given acupuncture experienced fewer migraine episodes, missed fewer days from work, and suffered no side effects compared to patients on conventional medication treatment. 
 Liguori A, Petti F, Bangrazi A, Camaioni D, Guccione G, Pitari GM, Bianchi A, Nicoletti WE. Comparison of pharmacological treatment versus acupuncture treatment for migraine without aura - analysis of sociomedical parameters [abstract]. J Tradit Chin Med 2000;20(3):231-40. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11038990. Accessed December 29, 2012
Is acupuncture safe?
When it comes to any form of medical treatment, safety is an important issue to be addressed. The World Health organization published a survey for the purpose of examining the safety of acupuncture treatment and concluded that acupuncture can be considered inherently safe in the hands of well-trained practitioners.  When treated with acupuncture or herbs, the amount of experience of the practitioner is very important to maximize the effect of the treatment and to prevent side effects.
 Zhang j, Shang H, Gaoa X, Ernstb E. Acupuncture-related adverse events: a systematic review of the Chinese literature. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2010;88:915-921C. doi: 10.2471/BLT.10.076737
How does acupuncture work?
There are several theories as to how it works. In our clinical practice, we mostly use acupuncture to stimulate the function of the nerves (to reduce pain or to help with nerve recovery), to regulate hormonal imbalance, or to reduce inflammation. Depending on the points stimulated along the body, theoretically, we can also stimulate a change in the brain function or flow of blood in certain areas.
Modern research allows us to have a deeper understanding of what acupuncture is doing. This ‘new’ information allows us to explain what we do as acupuncturists in a language that everybody (including the public and the medical community) will understand. As a clinician, I often utilize modern studies into the acupuncture or herbal treatments to improve the success of the treatment. There are several studies that evaluated the effect of acupuncture on our body. The researches found that acupuncture has the following effect:
Acupuncture stimulates the peripheral nervous system, both sensory and motor fibers. (Sánchez-Araujo, 2004)
Acupuncture effects the neurotransmitters in the central nervous system (Kwon S., 2012).
Acupuncture can reduce inflammation (Da Silva M. et al., 2011).
Acupuncture increases the blood flow (Takayama S., 2012).
Sánchez-Araujo M, Luckert-Barela A, Sánchez N, Torres J, Conde J. On dermatomes, meridians and points: results of a quasiexperimental study. Acupuncture In Medicine: Journal Of The British Medical Acupuncture Society [serial online]. February 2014;32(1):62-69. Available from: MEDLINE Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed April 7, 2014.
Kwon S, Kim D, Kim S, et al. Prefrontal-limbic change in dopamine turnover by acupuncture in maternally separated rat pups. Neurochemical Research [serial online]. October 2012;37(10):2092-2098. Available from: MEDLINE Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 27, 2014.
Da Silva M. Involvement of Interleukin-10 in the Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Sanyinjiao (SP6) Acupuncture in a Mouse Model of Peritonitis. Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine (Ecam) [serial online]. January 2011;8(1):1-9. Available from: Alt HealthWatch, Ipswich, MA. Accessed May 26, 2014.
Takayama S, Watanabe M, Kusuyama H, et al. Evaluation of the effects of acupuncture on blood flow in humans with ultrasound color Doppler imaging. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:513638.
What type of training do acupuncturists receive?
Acupuncturists receive a minimum of 7 to 8 years of education. Beginning with 4 years of general education and followed by 4 years of graduate studies to receive a Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This education program includes more than 1150 hours of western bio-medical sciences, such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, differential diagnosis, and physical exam along with over 1150 hours of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which includes acupuncture point locations, TCM physiology, TCM pathology, and Chinese herbal medicine. Each acupuncturist is required to complete 2 years of intership during their education and to pass national or state exams.
A Doctorate degree in acupuncture is the highest degree awarded after additional 2 to 4 years of study and clinical rotations.
NOTE: Other medical providers might be able to offer trigger point needling or dry needling with only 30 hours of training (depending on state regulations). In comparison to the training that acupuncturists get (over 2300 hours), a short seminar of 30 hours will not prepare any provider to practice acupuncture in a safe or effective way. Be careful when being offered acupuncture from any provider that was not adequately trained in Chinese medicine or acupuncture.