About Acupuncture*

Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific points on the body, by insertion of very fine, sterile, stainless steel needles to elicit a predictable physiological response. This stimulus may also be administered to the points using mild electrical stimulation (with or without needles), pressure techniques with the hands (acupressure) or the application of heat by various methods.

Acupuncturists assess a patient’s syndrome or pattern of disharmony by using a set of diagnostic skills that involve four areas; questioning, palpation, visual inspection, and olfactory-auditory data collection. An acupuncturist determines the necessary treatment principle and strategy to prompt the patient back to functional harmony by discriminating the exact pattern of the body’s physiological response to pathogenic factors.

The acupuncturist’s skill at determining the appropriate points to treat is based upon his/her ability to accurately distinguish the presenting pattern, knowledge of correct points to address that pattern and knowledge of the proper type of stimulus for each point. The possession of this knowledge and skills is the key distinction between a professional certified acupuncturist and other health care providers who employ acupuncture only as a modality (stimulating points for their general effect without adjusting their choice of points to the specific patient’s need).

What is a Diplomate of Acupuncture?*

A Diplomate of Acupuncture is an acupuncturist who is certified by the NCCAOM. It is a considerable professional achievement to earn the designation Diplomate of Acupuncture (NCCAOM). NCCAOM certification indicates to employers, patients, and peers that one has met national standards for the safe and competent practice of acupuncture as defined by the acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) profession. National board certification in acupuncture has been the mark of excellence in AOM since the inception of the Commission in 1982. Every certified NCCAOM Diplomate must abide by the NCCAOM® Code of Ethics.

What Training does an NCCAOM Diplomate of Acupuncture have?*

Comprehensive training in traditional differential diagnosis and proper treatment methods requires that a Diplomate of Acupuncture (NCCAOM) completes three to four academic years of education at the master’s degree level in an acupuncture program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). ACAOM is the only accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education as the authority for quality education and training in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. In addition to graduation from an ACAOM accredited program, a Diplomate of Acupuncture (NCCAOM) must demonstrate professional competency by passing NCCAOM certification examinations in Foundations of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture, and Biomedicine.

What is the difference between a Diplomate of Acupuncture and other healthcare practitioners who practice acupuncture?*

The Diplomate of Acupuncture (NCCAOM) training and competency verification is in sharp contrast to the acupuncture training of other healthcare professionals such as chiropractors or registered nurses or even medical doctors who typically receive 100-300 hours of abbreviated training. These other healthcare professionals only treat a limited number of points. NCCAOM certified acupuncturists are also trained in standard medical history gathering, safety, and ethics, and recognition of when to refer patients to other health care professionals or consult with other medical practitioners.

What does acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture is increasingly recognized by Western medicine as an effective alternative or adjunct to conventional treatments for stroke rehabilitation, headache, menstrual cramps, joint conditions, low back pain, and asthma as well as for the side effects of chemotherapy and nausea related to pregnancy. Acupuncture is often recommended for other pain-related conditions, especially osteoarthritis. Acupuncture to alleviate acute sinusitis can be quite effective, as can acupuncture on the ear for quelling addictions. Acupuncture can work well for addressing autoimmune conditions and infertility. Because acupuncture has so many positive effects on the body with minimal incidence of side effects, it is often considered in creating an integrative medicine treatment plan.


Modern research and international health organizations agree that acupuncture is a safe and highly effective treatment for many conditions including:

  • Digestive Difficulties: such as food allergies, peptic ulcers, chronic diarrhea, constipation, indigestion, gastrointestinal weakness, anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gastritis.

  • Bladder Disorders: including incontinence, urinary tract infections, and prostatitis.

  • Reproductive Issues: such as irregular, heavy or painful menstruation, premenstrual syndrome, infertility in women and men, menopausal symptoms and sexual dysfunctions.

  • Pain: such as arthritis, migraine headaches, neuralgia, dizziness, and low back, neck, dental and shoulder pain.

  • Circulatory Problems: such as hypertension, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis and anemia.

  • Emotional Issues: including depression, insomnia and anxiety.

  • Addictions: such as alcohol, nicotine and drugs.

  • Supportive Therapy: reduces nausea, vomiting, post-operative pain, and the side effects of chemotherapy.

  • Breathing Problems: such as colds and flu as well as chronic respiratory conditions - emphysema, sinusitis, asthma, allergies and bronchitis.

Does it hurt?

Acupuncture uses very fine needles approximately the size of a human hair to engage the meridians. As they are gently manipulated, patients typically feel a dull ache, tingling or heaviness in the area or along the meridian. These sensations are attributed to the arrival of Qi and signal the beginning of the healing process. Although each individual will experience acupuncture differently, common responses are a feeling of renewed energy and deep relaxation.

Does acupuncture have any side effects or contraindications?

When performed by a qualified professional, acupuncture is one of the safest medical procedures in the world.


Those with bleeding disorders or who are taking blood thinners should check with their doctors before having acupuncture. The most common acupuncture side effects are bleeding and bruising at the site, along with minor pain and soreness. It is recommended that a disinfectant such as alcohol be swabbed over the area prior to needle insertion to decrease the very small possibility of infection. Obviously, needles should be clean and never shared between clients. Rarely, a needle may break. The worst case scenario is a punctured organ.


However, serious complications are extremely rare when acupuncture is performed by a qualified, certified practitioner. A review of the international research literature revealed pneumothorax (a punctured lung) to be the only life-threatening complication to have occurred among tens of thousands of patients over nine separate trials. No post-acupuncture infections were reported in any of the studies.

*Taken from the NCCAOM website


© 2019 by South Dakota Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine Association