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Does Acupuncture Treat Chronic Pain?

Updated: Jan 8

About 50 million adults in the United States suffer from chronic pain. Chronic pain is a persistent pain that lasts a prolonged period of time from weeks to years. This type of pain can be caused by any number of things, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, MS, ulcers, and more. The intensity and persistence of chronic pain can cause some folks to become addicted to prescription pain relievers. The ‘Opioid Crisis’ makes it urgent that we find alternative ways to treat pain that are non-habit forming. Luckily, acupuncture has been used for centuries to gently relieve pain.

Acupuncture works through the insertion of hair-thin needles into the skin to stimulate the nerves and muscles to correct body imbalances and restore health. (Harvard Health Publishing, 2016) This releases endorphins and serotonin, which are natural pain-relief and mood-lifting chemicals. (Harvard Health Publishing, 2016) Research shows that acupuncture may be helpful for severe pain conditions including back, neck, and knee pain. (NCCIH, 2022) Acupuncture pain relief has also been shown to be comparable to that of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. (NCCIH, 2022) The beneficial effects of acupuncture may even last for up to a year after the end of treatment. (NCCIH, 2022)

Cupping is one technique that your acupuncturist may use to treat pain. Using silicone or glass cups, the acupuncturist will place the suction cup and oil on the skin, and gently slide the cups along the muscles on the back. (Ansorge, 2022) This creates a vacuum and suctions the skin and muscle into the cup, which feels sort of like a deep-tissue massage. (Ansorge, 2022) Cupping is not painful but it can leave a mild bruise that normally fades away within 2 weeks. (Ansorge, 2022) Cupping is used to treat inflammation, loosen tense muscles and fascia, and assists in detoxification. (Ansorge, 2022)

Another technique to relieve muscle and joint pain is “Gua sha”, a gentle scraping method used on the skin and muscles. While you may have seen Gua sha used to lift and sculpt the face, it has also been shown to benefit people with neck, back, and shoulder pain. (Sissons, 2017) One study found that compared to the control group, people who received gua sha treatment had improved range of motion and reduced pain. (Sissons, 2017) Gua sha does produce a mild intentional bruise known as “sha” that fades away within a few days, but you should feel relaxed and less tense afterwards, sort of what you might feel like after a massage. (Sissons, 2017)

Alongside acupuncture treatments, herbal prescriptions are a great and effective way to treat pain. There are a handful of herbal formulas that treat pain, whether it's an acute, recent injury or it’s an old injury causing chronic pain. There are herbal formulas for reducing inflammation in recent injuries, increasing circulation in older injuries, healing after surgery, and more. Herbal prescriptions are catered to your body’s needs and circumstances, so we cannot recommend specific ones here, but here are some over-the-counter supplements that may be beneficial to your case:

  • Magnesium: for headaches, fibromyalgia

  • Turmeric: an anti-inflammatory for arthritis, joint pain, and even IBS

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: for arthritis, joint pain, back pain, menstrual pain

  • Collagen: for joint pain, arthritis

Of course, please consult with your doctor before adding new supplements to your routine.

In short, acupuncture and herbal medicine are effective, gentle, and non-habit forming ways to manage chronic pain. We curate your treatment plan alongside your doctors to help you meet your goals. To learn more about how acupuncture and herbal medicine can help you manage your pain, book a consultation with our specially trained and licensed acupuncturists here.


“Acupuncture: What You Need to Know.” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Oct. 2022,,in%20people%20with%20breast%20cancer.

Ansorge , Rick. “Cupping Therapy.” Edited by Gabriella Pichardo, WebMD, WebMD, 5 Nov. 2022,

“Relieving Pain with Acupuncture.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, 15 June 2016,

Sissons, Claire. “Gua Sha: Uses, Benefits, and Side Effects.” Edited by Debra Rose Wilson, Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 23 Dec. 2017,

Someone placing an acupuncture needle on another person’s shoulder


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