Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


3-minute read

Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice, originating in China more than 2000 years ago. This article explains what acupuncturists do, and questions you might ask. It also describes a typical visit and how you can find an appropriately qualified acupuncturist.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture commonly refers to the use of metal needles to stimulate anatomical points, often with the addition of manual manipulation, heat or electrical stimulation. Some practitioners use lasers instead of needles to stimulate the anatomical points.

While acupuncture does appear to help in the treatment of some conditions, the theory of acupuncture is not able to be explained by current medical science.

Is acupuncture effective?

Studies have shown that acupuncture is likely to help with:

Acupuncture is sometimes used for the treatment of low back pain, although it is not certain that it is effective.  Guidelines from the British National Health Service now recommend not using acupuncture for low back pain with or without sciatica (leg pain).

It is not certain if acupuncture will help other conditions. There is some evidence to support the use of acupuncture for painful conditions, including headache and dental pain, but this evidence is not strong. 

Is acupuncture safe?

When performed by a suitably trained practitioner, acupuncture is generally considered to be safe for most people, but any procedure that involves puncturing the skin with needles or manipulating the human body carries some risk.

Potential side effects of acupuncture can include:

  • bleeding or bruising at puncture sites
  • infection at puncture sites
  • contact dermatitis
  • nerve damage
  • transmission of blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS
  • puncture of organs.

Acupuncturists should use sterile, disposable needles to prevent the transmission of blood-borne diseases and reduce the likelihood of infection at the puncture site.

What should you expect during acupuncture treatment?

A typical acupuncture session begins with a discussion of your problem and a physical examination.

The acupuncturist may then stimulate certain points on the body, either by inserting the fine metal needles or using a laser.

The needles used in acupuncture are typically much finer than the needles used to take blood, and the process is usually painless. Once the needles are inserted, they will be left in place while you lie still, and hopefully relaxed. As many as 20 needles may be used in one session.

The needles may be turned or wobbled as part of the treatment. The needles will be removed at the end of the session.

Should I talk to my doctor?

Yes, if you are planning on using acupuncture, it’s important to discuss any possible conditions with your doctor.

It may be important to discuss any possible conditions or medications that may increase your likelihood of a poor outcome from acupuncture, such as:

  • bleeding problems or medications that thin the blood
  • reduced immunity
  • some types of cancer
  • a metal allergy.

If you have an automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator or pacemaker, you should avoid electrical stimulation.

If you have any blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS, you may need to discuss the risk of transmission with your doctor and acupuncturist before undergoing the procedure.

You shouldn't delay or stop any medical treatment in favour of acupuncture without first discussing this with your doctor.

Where can I find an acupuncturist?

It is important to check the registration of your acupuncturist with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). You can search for registered Chinese medicine practitioners on the AHPRA website.

Last reviewed: January 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results


Acupuncture has been part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. It involves inserting fine needles into specific points on the skin or applying various other techniques to the acupuncture points to restore balance and encourage the body to heal itself.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Acupuncture - BluePages

Find out if acupuncture is likely to help.

Read more on e-hub Web Services - Australian National University (ANU) website

Acupuncture -

Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing that was developed as part of the traditional medicine of China, Japan and other Eastern countries.

Read more on myDr website

Acupuncture for chronic asthma | Cochrane

Acupuncture is a treatment originating from traditional Chinese medicine. It consists of the stimulation of defined points on the skin (mostly by insertion of needles). The objective of this review was to assess whether there is evidence from randomised controlled trials that asthma patients benefit from acupuncture. The studies included in the review were of variable quality and had inconsistent results. Future research should concentrate on establishing whether there is a non-specific component of acupuncture which benefits recipients of treatment. There should be an assessment not merely of placebo treatment, but also of 'no treatment' as well. There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations about the value of acupuncture as a treatment for asthma based on current evidence.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Acupuncture for osteoarthritis | Cochrane

This summary of a Cochrane review presents what we know from research about the effect of acupuncture on osteoarthritis.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Acupuncture for fibromyalgia | Cochrane

This summary of a Cochrane review presents what we know from research about the effect of acupuncture on fibromyalgia.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Acupuncture needles -

Apart from the most common filiform needle there are a number of specialised acupuncture needles with specific uses.

Read more on myDr website

Acupuncture for schizophrenia | Cochrane

Although acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine has been practised for over 2000 years in China and the Far East, especially in Korea and Japan, it is a relatively new form of treament for physical and psychological conditions in the West. Acupuncture inserts needles into the skin to stimulate specific points of the body (acupoints). The aim is to achieve balance and harmony of the body.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Acupuncture for stroke rehabilitation | Cochrane

Acupuncture is a treatment based on ancient Chinese medicine in which fine needles or pressure is applied at certain sites in the body for therapeutic purposes. We wanted to know whether acupuncture is effective in improving the recovery of daily activities, movement, and quality of life in people who had experienced a stroke more than one month previously.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Acupuncture for preventing migraine attacks | Cochrane

The available evidence suggests that a course of acupuncture consisting of at least six treatment sessions can be a valuable option for people with migraine.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo