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Integrative Medicine: Acupuncture

FP Essent. 2021 Jun;505:18-22.


Acupuncture is used to manage pain and a variety of medical and psychological conditions. It modulates nociceptive areas of the brain, affects neuropeptide and purinergic signaling, and stimulates production of opioid neuropeptides. There are many types of acupuncture, including traditional, dry needling, laser, auricular, scalp, Japanese, and Korean. There is evidence that traditional acupuncture is effective in the management of many conditions, with strong evidence of benefit for chronic back pain and osteoarthritis-related knee pain. In the United States, the conditions most commonly managed with acupuncture are low back pain, depression, anxiety, headache, and arthritis. There are no absolute contraindications. Relative contraindications include frailty and febrile illness. Acupuncture should not be used in areas of skin infection or breakdown. Acupuncture typically is avoided during the first trimester of pregnancy. Reports of serious adverse effects are rare but include pneumothorax, infection, organ or tissue injuries, and seizures. Serious adverse effects of electroacupuncture (eg, skin burns, pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator dysfunction) are limited to case reports. Thirty-three states in the United States consider acupuncture to be within the scope of practice of physicians. Other states require specific acupuncture training. Medicare provides coverage for acupuncture for management of chronic low back pain.



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