How Auricular Acupuncture Can Help with Opiate Use Disorder

Posted by Victor S. Sierpina, MD on Fri, Feb 15, 2019 @ 11:37 AM

Previously published, Galveston County Daily News, Jan 23, 2019

Opiate Use Disorder is claiming lives by the tens of thousands. The Center for Disease Control reported 47,600 deaths in the US involving opioids in 2017, concluding that the opioid overdose epidemic continues to worsen with increased in deaths involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. In the state of Texas, deaths attributable to opioids rose three times from 1999-2015 with increasing impact on maternal mortality and neonatal abstinence syndrome.

The UTMB Department of Family Medicine recently submitted a grant proposal to improve education and clinical practice by training and outreach to rural areas hardest hit by this growing scourge. Many of those with OUD started on prescription medications and then moved onto black market products like heroin, fentanyl, and diverted OxyContin.

Controlled substance contracts, the statewide Prescription Monitoring Program, limiting initial opiate prescriptions, automated electronic medical record notifications about the use of Naloxone, medical provider and public awareness are all part of the solution.

The use of auricular (ear) acupuncture for substance abuse, alleviating withdrawal symptoms, behavioral health, and pain management is a safe, widely researched, and long-standing adjunctive treatment modality. The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA protocol) is the best known of the methods and has been practiced widely for over 30 years. It involves application of 3 to 5 needles at specified ear points, is simple to learn and to apply, and enjoys wide patient acceptance.

The clinical application of ear acupuncture for substance use since it was first found effective in easing withdrawal symptoms from opium and heroin in Hong Kong in the 1970’s. Since then, research and practice-based evidence continues to accumulate and drive its use along with safety, ease of application, and patient acceptance.

The broad application of NADA to alcohol, opiate, nada pictobacco, methamphetamine, and cocaine abuse makes it a promising adjunct to medical and behavioral treatment methods in a very challenging patient population. Additionally, the NADA protocol has been used for stress management, including post-traumatic stress, treating addicted pregnant women, sleep disorders, and anxiety. It has been used in refugee camps, post-hurricane settings, prisons, hospitals, rehabilitation treatment centers, as well as outpatient clinics, predominantly in a group treatment context.

Practitioners emphasize that so-called “acudetox” is an adjunctive, not a standalone treatment for easing withdrawal symptoms as well as maintenance of abstinence. It is most effective when applied with standard therapy, behavioral interventions, and/or 12-step programs.

Physiological studies have shown auricular acupuncture acts on neuroendocrinological pathways include serotonin, dopamine, endorphin, dynorphin, and GABA receptors which mediate its effects on pain management. The Battlefield Acupuncture protocol using 5 tiny tacks in each ear has been increasingly used since the early 2000’s when it was first applied in military settings. It can also be highly and immediately effective in acute problems like migraine and chronic problems such as back or muscle pain.

Other non-pharmacological treatments such as mindfulness, anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements, chiropractic, massage, hypnosis, diet, exercise, physical therapy, yoga and tai chi can also be part of a rational integrative pain management plan that doesn’t involve the risk of using addicting opiates.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

---Martin Luther King, Jr.

Topics: Traditional Chinese Medicine, efficacy of acupuncture, chinese medicine, tcm education, prevention, acupunture

Catching Up With Ashley Oved, Acupuncturist, Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Posted by Rob Davidson on Wed, Nov 04, 2015 @ 11:57 AM

On Thursday, October 15, AOMA Alumni Ashley Oved presented “Acupuncture in the Integrative Hospital”, a Brown Bag Lecture about her experience in the increasingly common practice of acupuncture in an integrative hospital.

We caught up with Ashley to ask her a few questions about her life at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and how she felt her education at AOMA helped prepare her for the challenges she faces each day. 

What does a typical work day look like for you at the hospital?

There are two acupuncturists at this location and we each treat between 9-14 patients a day. It’s a fast paced environment but quite manageable. We treat most of our patients in the Outpatient Clinic but we also treat patients in the Intensive Care Unit or will visit them when they are receiving chemotherapy in the Infusion Center. Just recently, we’ve started Group Acupuncture twice a week which has been a huge success. Our patients really love acupuncture, so there is rarely a dull moment around here.

Do you feel like your training at AOMA adequately prepared you for work in an integrated environment? 

I really do! Working at Seton Topfer and Austin Recovery gave me a ton of experience. Austin Recovery intimidated me so much the first couple of weeks (shout out to Claudia Voyles for being my pillar of strength) but it was probably the best clinic I ever had at AOMA. It exposed me to a different patient population and prepared me for leading Group Acupuncture here at CTCA.  The information I learned in the Physical Assessment classes has also come in handy.  The first time I saw “No Babinski, Negative Romberg” on a patient’s chart I thought, “I know what that means! 

Any advice for current students or alum who are interested in working in an environment like CTCA?

It’s a good idea to focus in on a specialty.  Whether it’s pediatrics, oncology, or fertility it really is up to you. Get some books on what interests you, or take some online CEU’s. Having that leg up gives you an advantage when applying to jobs.  But truly my best advice is to just go out and apply. The clinical experience you gain in the student clinic has prepared you more than you know. You don’t have to be the greatest acupuncturist that has ever lived. You just have to be confident in yourself and your abilities. If you continue to learn new techniques and keep up to date on the latest studies, you will be well on your way.  There are many hospitals that already incorporate acupuncture into their model of care, and many more on the verge of it. So don’t get discouraged! There are definitely jobs out there.

To learn more about the Student & Career Services’ Brown Bag Lecture Series check out our website.

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Topics: alumni, efficacy of acupuncture, acupuncture, licensed acupuncture, cancer treatment

Can you Love Acupuncture and still Fear Needles?

Posted by Stephanee Owenby on Wed, Jul 08, 2015 @ 03:13 PM


Trypanophobia, or the fear of needles, is fairly common, affecting an estimated 10% of Americans. Chances are that either you or someone you know experiences stress and anxiety at the thought of a medical professional sticking them with a needle. And it’s no wonder! I’m sure that very few of us can say that we have ever had a positive interaction with a needle. From a very young age we’re taken to the doctor for injections, accompanied by promises that “it won’t hurt a bit!” This is of course a lie, which then associates needles with both deceit and pain. From tattoos to stitches to blood draws and vaccinations, all of our needle experiences are uncomfortable and/or unpleasant, which eventually takes its toll. In extreme cases the fear of needles can lead to people avoiding doctors and medical care altogether, which can definitely make acupuncture a tough sell. But hear me out.


Most people that I talk to about acupuncture have one major question: does it hurt? The quick answer: no it doesn’t. But we’re going to explore that question a bit more. Let’s talk numbers. Needle widths are measured in a term called gauge, with the gauge of commonly-used hypodermic needles (the kind used for injections) being anywhere from 7 (largest) to 33 (smallest). To compare, the largest commonly-used acupuncture needle is 28 gauge, and the smallest is 42. That’s anywhere from .35-.14 millimeters in width! To the naked eye, acupuncture needles are thinner than a human hair. Additionally, hypodermic needles are hollow to allow for fluid transfer, whereas acupuncture needles are solid. This combined with their thinness allows for a lot of flexibility in acupuncture needles. They are less invasive than hypodermic needles, and as a result you feel them significantly less. Upon insertion you might feel a tiny tingle, or a warm sensation, which is completely normal and usually fades within seconds. You may also feel very relaxed or drowsy during your treatment; I generally nap through my acupuncture sessions. After your treatment you will probably leave the clinic with an increased sense of well-being or even mild euphoria. This is also completely normal, and is one of the best side effects of acupuncture.

The other main question I often get asked about acupuncture is if it’s safe. At the AOMA clinics we take great care to make sure that our policies and practices follow the strictest guidelines of cleanliness, and patient safety is our highest priority. All of our clinicians, including student interns, are required to take and pass the CCAOM’s Clean Needle Technique (CNT) course prior to treating patients in our clinics. Acupuncture needles are factory-sealed to ensure sterility, and open packs of needles are properly disposed of if not used. Acupuncture needles are used once and only once; we never re-use them. Following CNT guidelines, once they are selected by your practitioner the necessary acupuncture points will be cleaned with a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol. A clean cotton ball will be used to close the points once each acupuncture needle is removed.      


Now that we’ve talked about needle size and clean needle techniques, let’s talk about the overall experience. An acupuncture session will be the most positive needle experience you will ever have in your life. The acupuncture experience is highly focused on relaxation, as relaxed bodies heal more quickly than tense ones. You will rest on a massage table in a dimmed room with soft music playing, and your practitioner will do their best to make sure you are comfortable and relaxed. The temperature of each room can be adjusted with fans or heaters, and we have blankets, pillows, and bolsters available for your comfort. Your acupuncturist will spend time with you before your treatment discussing the points they’d like to needle and why; please feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like! We love for our patients to be actively involved in the care they receive at our clinics.

I am a huge fan of acupuncture, and not only because I work at an acupuncture clinic! I myself have experienced the amazing transformative power of this medicine; I have witnessed its healing potential on numerous friends and family members, and I am privileged every day to see the positive changes it brings into our patients’ lives. Give acupuncture a try, even if you’re nervous or afraid. It’s definitely possible to hate needles but still love acupuncture!

Request an appointment at our Austin acupuncture clinics below:

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Topics: efficacy of acupuncture, acupuncture clinics, acupuncture, acupuncture needles

Chinese Medicine 101: 5 Reasons to go to Acupuncture School

Posted by Sarah Bentley on Wed, Feb 20, 2013 @ 02:50 PM

acupuncture school austin
It's no secret that the program at AOMA is rigorous and challenging. Acupuncture school will challenge you to discover your full potential as a student, as a healer, and ultimately as a professional practitioner. Though not easy, this truly transformational journey is meaningful and provides the foundation to building a successful career after school.

To become an acupuncturist, you must attend an accredited acupuncture school, take comprehensive national board exams and upon passing them, apply for licensure in the state where you want to practice. It takes most people an average of four years to get through acupuncture school. A master’s degree in acupuncture is the current entry- level standard for the profession. A few schools also offer doctoral programs in Oriental medicine, which would add a couple of more years.

1. Efficacy

There is increasing scientific evidence proving the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of medical ailments including chemotherapy-induced nausea, autoimmune disorders, chronic back pain, hypertension and allergic rhinitis. 

Coverage of acupuncture by major health insurance plans is also on the rise, and compared to traditional Western medicine, acupuncture and Chinese medicine are less expensive.

Acupuncture can also decrease reliance on prescription drugs, making it a safe, affordable and accessible healing modality.

2. A Growing Industry

The use of acupuncture is on the rise in the United States. Between 1997 and 2007 the number of visits among adults nearly tripled, rising from 27.2 to 79.2 per 1,000 adults.

According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 3.1 million adults in the United States used acupuncture in 2006, a 47 percent increase from the 2002 estimate.

Coverage of acupuncture by major health insurance plans is also on the rise, and compared to traditional Western medicine, acupuncture and Chinese medicine are less expensive. Acupuncture can also decrease reliance on prescription drugs, making it a safe, affordable and accessible healing modality.

3. Job Opportunities

The demand for acupuncture could soon outweigh the number of practitioners that can currently fulfill that demand. There are many possibilities for acupuncture and Chinese medicine practitioners. National Association of Advisors for the Health Care Professions, “The future of AOM is bright with great opportunity for graduates in this field.”

There are many possibilities for students who graduate from acupuncture school. Most chose to work in private practice or work with a group of practitioners, like a massage therapist or chiropractor, at a holistic health or rehabilitation center. As acupuncture is growing in demand, opportunities to work in pain management clinics and hospitals are becoming more available. The military is also becoming more open to employing acupuncturists to research post-traumatic stress which has shown positive results for treating veterans.  acupuncture student Austin

There are also opportunities to travel with acupuncture by working for groups such as Acupuncturists without Borders or island hopping on cruise ships. Many students have done this right after graduating from acupuncture school as a sort of working vacation.

4. Credentials and Recognition

After graduating from acupuncture school you have to take board exams and apply for licensure. Most US states require national board certification for licensure. The NCCAOM administers the national board examinations for the profession. Each state has unique licensure and scope of practice regulations. In many states, candidates for licensure must demonstrate their diagnostic and technical clinical skill that they learned in acupuncture school. There currently is no standardization of licensure, for example, in Texas the license is called "Licensed Acupuncturist", whereas in Florida it is called "Acupuncture Physician" and in New Mexico it is called "Doctor or Oriental Medicine" (DOM).

5. Fulfilling and Lucrative Career

According to the U.S. Department of Labor National Center for O*NET Development, medianwages for an acupuncturist are $35.83 hourly, $74,530 annual. Recent graduates should keep in mind that statistics show that it takes 2-5 years for a new practice to get established. Factors like location, style of practice, and clinical specialties can all impact expected earnings. 

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Topics: job opportunities, acupuncture school, efficacy of acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Medicine Treatment of Hypertension

Posted by Shengyan (Grace) Tan, MD (China), LAc on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 @ 04:05 PM

acupuncture for hypertension Hypertension is a series of clinical symptoms marked by increase of blood pressure in the arteries of blood circulation, according to the criteria suggested by the World Health Organization. Adults with systolic pressure greater than 140 mmHg and/or diastolic pressure greater than 90 mmHg can be diagnosed with hypertension (the result of three tests taken intermittently in one day).

How does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) diagnose hypertension?

Traditional Chinese Medicine and hypertension

Hypertension is similar to dizziness and vertigo in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is usually thought to be caused by emotional factors, constitutional deficiencies, diet and stress that lead to an imbalance of yin and yang in the liver, spleen and kidney*. Eventually this can result in hyperactivity of liver fire, or phlegm disturbing the upper, or frequent weakness of kidney yin and the failure of yin to control yang.

How does TCM usually treat hypertension?

It is essential to differentiate hypertension which is caused by excess from that which is caused by deficiency. TCM usually treats hypertension with body acupuncture, ear acupuncture, and herbs, but depending on the cause, the acupuncture points selected, techniques, and herbs will be different. The treatment for the excess type is to calm the liver to stop wind, eliminate fire and resolve phlegm. For hypertension caused by deficiency the approach is to replenish qi and blood, while nourishing the liver and kidney.

Case Study – Mr. High

Mr. High, 65 years old, has been diagnosed with hypertension for 10 years. He told Dr. Tan that he was experiencing dizziness, headaches, red eyes, a bitter taste in his mouth, restlessness, irritability, and poor sleep. He came for acupuncture twice a week for a month and was prescribed Chinese herbs.

Dr. Tan used the following acupuncture points: GB 20, LI 11, LI 4, SP10, ST 40, LR 3, and HT7. His herbal prescription was a modified Longdan Xiegan Tang formula. One month after the treatment, all his symptoms were relieved and his blood pressure was stabilized.

Dr. Tan’s Tips

Dr. Tan also recommends qigong exercises to help his body to regain the balance of yin and yang, calm the liver, eliminate fire, and replenish qi and blood. From a TCM perspective, it would also be better for hypertensive patients to eat more fruits and vegetables and less greasy and spicy food. Also it is advisable to avoid seafood which from the TCM perspective is stimulating and cold in nature. Food that is cold in nature promotes dampness and phlegm, which can make dizziness and vertigo worse. Fish is relatively better than shrimp and crab.

Herbal Foot Soak

This herbal foot soak can help to relieve vertigo, tinnitus, headache, limb numbness, and insomnia. To prepare the foot soak, cut the herb Gouteng (Gambir vine stems) into small pieces and wrap in a cloth with a littleBingpian (Borneol) and steep them in warm water. Soak the feet twice a day after getting up and before going to bed, 30-45 minutes each time and 10 days as a treatment course. These herbs require an herbal prescription.

Unique Herbal Prescriptions

Patients who suffer from high blood pressure should make an appointment with a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist as every person is unique. The practitioner will take a full medical history and do pulse and tongue diagnosis to determine the best acupuncture plan and herbal prescription.

*organs in italics refer to meridians in Chinese medicine, not actual organs.

Written by:

Dr. Shengyan ‘Grace’ Tan is a faculty member at AOMA and sees patients in the professional clinic.

Introduction to Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine

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Topics: Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture research, efficacy of acupuncture

Acupuncture Used in Military Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program

Posted by Jillian Kelble on Mon, Jan 28, 2013 @ 06:08 AM

The military seems to be leading the pack with the use of acupuncture in the treatment of psychosocial pain. To be more specific, the US Army has implemented several programs incorporating complementary and alternative medicine to treat symptoms of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). One of these programs happens to be right here in Texas at Ft. Hood. The program is titled Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program (WCSRP).

acupuncture in the military

The WCSRP is an eleven week program combining the use of traditional Western therapies with traditional Eastern approaches to treat soldiers with PTSD symptoms. Various methods of complementary medicine are offered, such as acupuncture, massage, reflexology, sound therapy, meditation, reiki/bio-energy therapies, as well as mind-body practices such as yoga and tai chi. The WCSRP is a time-intensive program, requiring soldiers to show up every day for the first three weeks, participate in group-counseling, as well as individual counseling, and determine an individualized treatment plan incorporating complementary treatment methods which then continues over the following eight weeks.

Due to the success of programs like the WCSRP, there is growing support to make complementary medicine a standard in psychosocial treatment programs.


The views expressed in article titled "Acupuncture Used in Military Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program" (January 2013 AOMA Blog) are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Marines, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations herein are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. Army, the U.S. Marines, and the U.S. Navy.

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Topics: Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture research, efficacy of acupuncture

Treating Stroke with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Posted by Sarah Bentley on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 @ 04:15 PM


A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is the rapid loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to lack of blood flow or a hemorrhage. Depending on the area of the brain that is affected patients may suffer from an inability to move one or more limbs on one side of the body, an inability to understand or formulate speech, or an inability to see one side of the visual field.

Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol,smoking, old age, previous stroke, and atrial fibrillation. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor of stroke. It is the third leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease and cancer. Stroke affects more than 700,000 individuals annually in the United States. About 500,000 of these are first attacks, and 200,000 are recurrent attacks.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used to prevent and treat the stroke patients.

Chinese medicine can be very helpful for preventing stroke and its associated risk factors. Acupuncture and herbs can help offset the systemic imbalances that contribute to stroke. These are issues such as long-term emotional and physical stress, being overworked, poor diet and dietary habits such as eating too fast, at odd hours, etc. and an overall lack of relaxation. Of course, the patient has to be willing to adapt their lifestyle, too.

On the rehabilitative side, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can improve muscular strength, muscle tone, speech disorder, and swallowing function. I usually choose points on Liver and Kidney channels since there are most commonly involved channels in stroke. However, different patients have their own characteristics. I will make a differential diagnosis for each stroke patient based on the stroke history and manifestation from tongue and pulse. In addition, I typically use scalp needles and attach mild electrical stimulation to the needles to speed-up the recovery.

As an acupuncturist and physician, I worked at the neurological center in China Sichuan State Hospital & Sichuan Provincial Academy of Medical Science for 13 years, where I treated 30-40 stroke patients daily in ICU and the regular wards.

A stroke patient came to see me in the AOMA clinic with his wife two weeks after the onset of the stroke. I could feel how stressed the couple was. The patient once was very happy with a positive attitude to his life. When he came into my office he was so depressed. He couldn’t walk, speak, or dress himself. After collecting all the medical history from him and his wife, I observed his tongue and felt his pulse. Then I gave a therapeutic plan for him. One month later, he already started walking and his fingers could grasp tightly. His life attitude completely changed. He is happy again after realizing that he can live normally under my care.

Sometimes, during the acupuncture treatment, I will give some Chinese herbs based on individual needs. For certain people the herbs can be very helpful in stroke recovery. I also give dietary recommendations to each patient to make sure the risk factors of stroke are under strict control and patient’s diet is balanced and healthy.

herbal programDr. Nelson Song Luo is a faculty member at AOMA and sees patients in the professional clinic.

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Topics: Traditional Chinese Medicine, chinese herbalism, acupuncture research, efficacy of acupuncture, stroke

7 Tips for Preventing the Flu

Posted by Sarah Bentley on Thu, Jan 10, 2013 @ 01:22 PM

1. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

2. Rest.

When you are tired, your body is susceptible to illness. Stay home and rest when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. Rest is some of the best medicine around!

3. Cover your mouth and nose.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Remind others to cover their mouth and nose, too.

prevent the flu4. Clean your hands.

Washing your hands for 10 seconds will often help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

5.  Drink a lot of water. 

When colds and the flu are going around, one of your best defenses is to keep your body fully hydrated so that your respiratory tissues aren’t easily irritated.

6. Stay warm and cozy. 

Oriental medicine believes that wind invasions can weaken your body and make catching a cold more likely.  Cover your neck and chest, and keep your feet warm and dry.

7.  Try Chinese medicine. 

Treatments can help strengthen your body’s immune system.  Oriental medicine includes things such as acupuncture and Chinese herbs.


Tips compiled by Song Luo LAc, PhD, MD (China)


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Topics: Traditional Chinese Medicine, chinese herbalism, acupuncture research, efficacy of acupuncture

WHO Recognizes Acupuncture as an Effective Form of Treatment

Posted by Justine Meccio on Wed, Aug 01, 2012 @ 04:26 PM

The World Health Organization (WHherbal medicine programO) serves as the authority for health and health care within the United Nations system and is leader on global health matters. In addition to playing a key role in medical research, establishing health care standards and policy, the WHO also monitors and assesses emerging trends in global health.


In 2003, the WHO published a review of clinical trials of acupuncture, Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials. As a result of this publication, the WHO recognizes 28 diseases, symptoms, or conditions for which acupuncture has been proven to be an effective form of treatment. These include:

-Adverse Reactions to radiotherpy

and/or chemotherapy

-Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)

-Biliary colic


-Dystentery, acute bacillary

-Dysmenorrhea, primary


-Facial pain



-Hypertension, essential

-Hypotension, primary

-Induction of labour

-Knee pain


-Low back pain

-Malposition of fetus

-Morning sickness

-Nausea and vomiting

-Neck pain

-Pain in dentistry

-Periarthritis of shoulder

-Postoperative pain

-Renal colic

-Rheumatoid arthritis




-Tennis elbow











The WHO also recognizes acupuncture’s therapeutic effects for over 55 diseases, symptoms, or conditions, but noted additional controlled trials are needed.


Acupuncture is a system of medical care that originated in China thousands of years ago which has since become widely used in health care systems throughout the world. During acupuncture treatment, thin needles are inserted into the patient’s body at specific points to treat disease, alleviate symptoms, or relieve pain. The application of needles can also be combined with moxibustion (the burning of particular herbs over the skin) to stimulate certain points.


One of the most well-known modalities within Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is often used by practitioners in conjunction with herbal medicine, dietary therapy, Asian bodywork therapies, and mind-body exercise to treat patients.

Introduction to Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine

Topics: Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture research, efficacy of acupuncture

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