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Five things you should know about acupuncture

We asked Licensed Acupuncturist Stacey Degen and Anesthesiologist Clarence Shannon, MD, to discuss acupuncture and its role in the treatment of University of Minnesota Health patients.
During acupuncture therapy, a specialist inserts fine, sterilized needles into specific points throughout the body—also known as “acupoints”—to normalize physiological function. We asked University of Minnesota Health Licensed Acupuncturist Stacey Degen, L.Ac, and Anesthesiologist Clarence Shannon, MD, to tell us more about acupuncture.

Is acupuncture painful? How does the therapy actually work? Can it complement other medical care?

Licensed Acupuncturist Stacey Degen, L.Ac, often receives questions about her practice. Degen, who sees University of Minnesota Health patients, uses acupuncture to help her patients manage their pain, relieve stress and boost the body’s natural healing processes. She works side-by-side with other medical providers—such as Anesthesiologist Clarence Shannon, MD, a pain management specialist—to carry out a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary treatment plan.

We caught up with Degen and Shannon to discuss acupuncture, its effectiveness and its use alongside other treatment approaches. Here’s what they had to say:

Acupuncture therapy encourages the body’s natural healing response.

During acupuncture therapy, a specialist inserts fine, sterilized needles into specific points throughout the body—also known as “acupoints”—to normalize physiological function. When done correctly, the insertion of the needles may stimulate the nervous system and trigger the release of endorphins and other chemicals in muscles, the spinal cord and brain. This process can improve the biochemical balance of the body and promote physical and emotional health, Degen said.

“There are many theories about how it works,” Degen said. “Some research points to the stimulation of neurotransmitters and the autonomic nervous system to elicit responses that in turn reduce pain and inflammation.”

Learn more about our comprehensive pain management services.

When performed correctly, acupuncture is painless.

Many people Degen sees are worried that acupuncture will be painful, but that’s a misconception, she said. The acupuncture needle is like a cat whisker, Degen added. It is extraordinarily small—much smaller than a hypodermic needle.

“We use needles to elicit a body response,” Degen said. “When used by a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac) who knows the body, the therapy should not be painful. The majority of people who come in uncertain about the treatment leave surprised at how pleasant it was. Everyone responds in a different way, which is why we create a specific acupuncture plan for each person.”

Acupuncture may also decrease the body’s stress response.

Managing a person’s stress response is often important in the hospital environment, particularly for patients coping with a significant diagnosis, a medical procedure or a prolonged recovery. Acupuncture can increase recovery rates, support optimal immune system function and increase a person’s energy level.

“University of Minnesota Health providers care for some of the sickest people in state,” Degen said. “I often see patients after they’ve received a life-altering diagnosis. Acupuncture can help relieve not only pain, but also the physical and emotional symptoms of stress. We look at the body as a whole, in addition to the diagnosis.”

Acupuncture can be an effective treatment for many conditions.

Acupuncture can function as a standalone therapy, or it can be included into a larger pain management plan.

University of Minnesota Health care providers employ it in our orthopaedic, pain management, cancer care, women’s health and internal medicine services along with other modern pain management techniques, from medication to peripheral nerve blocks.

Learn more about the innovative pain management techniques that we offer.

It is often used to treat neck pain, back pain, knee pain and chronic concussion syndrome. Acupuncture can also help relieve the side effects of chemotherapy, including nausea, fatigue and lack of appetite. Our providers also use it during post-operative recovery for certain procedures, such as knee or shoulder replacement. At University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, our Integrative Health providers offer acupuncture for our pediatric patients.

In some cases, acupuncture can serve as an alternative to opioid medications, Shannon and Degen said.

“We want to educate the public to understand the opioid problem is something we can address,” Degen said. “Acupuncture is a referral option for physicians looking for a safe, natural solution for treating chronic pain.”