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For weeks, Nathan Suver had a serious pain in the neck. It was a recurring problem, related to a back injury, and nothing made it go away. Until, that is, his doctor jabbed him with pins. “He did it as part of a routine visit,” recalls Suver, a 35-year-old software developer from Southington, Connecticut. “He has acupuncture training. He just said, ‘This will help with the pain,’ and stuck 10 little needles in me. He first put one in my neck, and then one in my wrist. It felt like lightning shooting through my body from my neck to my wrist. But it was actually only slightly uncomfortable.”
The treatment was worth that slight discomfort, because Suver’s pain went away. A week later, he bragged about the success on Facebook. “What’s even more amazing is that while I was convinced it wouldn’t work, it did anyway,” he wrote. “So much for the placebo effect.”
Acupuncture, from an Eastern perspective, is all about energy and its flow through your body. If that flow is blocked, the thinking goes, pain or illness results. By gently tapping as many as 20 thin needles into your body at strategic points, acupuncturists try to reestablish the flow. That’s a compelling but not necessarily convincing explanation. So Western medicine is working to understand the mechanisms of acupuncture. “There are many details we still don’t understand, but essentially, acupuncture seems to stimulate specific muscles and nerves, activating changes that reduce pain and symptoms and promote healing,” says Kwokming James Cheng, M.D., whose June review in aimed to identify the precise neurological significance of common “acupoints”—areas targeted in acupuncture.
How acupuncture works may be unclear, but the benefits stick out. Research shows that this ancient therapy can be an effective treatment for a wide variety of ailments, from back pain and sciatica to headaches, nausea, and asthma. We consulted experts and recent studies to find out which conditions seem to benefit most from acupuncture. If you’re struggling with one of the following ailments, you might consider going under the needle.