Are you having back pain with any of the following?

  • Severe pain, weakness or tingling in your leg(s).
  • Difficulty stopping urination or loss of control of bladder or bowels.
  • Unexplained fever, nausea or vomiting.
  • A history of cancer or unexplained weight loss.

We understand that you are experiencing one or more of the health issues that might be impacting your back pain.

We recommend that you discuss these health issues with your doctor before proceeding with this program.

Once you are cleared by your doctor to do this program, we hope it helps you find relief from your back pain.

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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Some people prefer treatment options that complement traditional medicine such as acupuncture or herbal supplements that can help you stay healthy, feel better, and manage medical problems safely. To ensure the best possible treatment, please talk to us about your options.


Acupuncture has been practiced as part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. In recent years, acupuncture has been introduced into Western medical settings, including at Kaiser Permanente.

An acupuncturist inserts thin needles into your body at specific points. The traditional theory is that these needles stimulate key points in the body and remove obstacles to the flow of the vital life energy, called qi or chi. Western theory proposes that the needles trigger the nervous system to release natural chemicals or hormones, such as endorphins, that influence pain perception.

We may recommend acupuncture as part of a multidisciplinary treatment plan for chronic pain. Acupuncture can also be helpful for controlling nausea or vomiting associated with cancer treatment.

Why It Is Performed

Research shows that acupuncture may help people with chronic pain, especially musculoskeletal discomfort such as knee or shoulder pain. Acupuncture can also help to ease nausea and vomiting, including symptoms associated with chemotherapy treatment. More recently, acupuncture has been shown to help reduce pain associated with cancer. While additional studies are under way, scientific research is insufficient to show the benefit of acupuncture for other conditions. A clear medical diagnosis and treatment plan are required before acupuncture treatment begins.

Acupuncture is typically most effective when it is used alongside other symptom management treatments, rather than as a stand-alone therapy. Individual responses to a first acupuncture treatment vary. Some people feel better right away, some feel no change, and a small number report feeling worse. However, your response to the first treatment does not indicate how well acupuncture will work for you in the long term. It usually takes around 4 treatment sessions to tell if acupuncture is helping you. 

Acupuncture can help reduce pain and other symptoms for hours, days, or weeks. The relief may last a long time, or it may be temporary. Acupuncture is one way to ease your symptoms while you learn other ways to manage pain or nausea.

How It Is Performed

We recommend that you eat a small meal before your appointment and wear comfortable clothes. We may ask you to change into a patient gown, depending on where on your body the needles will be placed.

We will ask you about your medical history and lifestyle habits including:

  • Exercise
  • Nutrition
  • Stress levels
  • Physical health
  • Mental health
  • Pain
  • Other problems

Your initial visit will last approximately 30 minutes. If you have certain medical conditions, including seizures, a high fever, untreated cancer, or an infectious illness, we may need to postpone treatment. After each treatment, we ask you not to do any vigorous activities and go to sleep early that night.

Inserting the Needles

We will make you comfortable lying down or in a seated position. The acupuncture points we select will depend on your symptoms, and we will talk you through each step of needle placement. Each point relates to a specific health condition or function of the body, and you may have needles in several areas.

We insert the needles by gently tapping them into the skin. The needles are made of very fine sterile stainless steel and are used for you only. Most people do not feel any pain when the needles are inserted, but if you do, tell us right away. It is common to feel a mild sensation of pressure, warmth, tingling, or numbness. The needles remain in place for around 20 minutes.

We may gently vibrate the needles during treatment, or we may connect the needles to a mild electrical current. We will adjust the level of electrical stimulation so that it is comfortable for you. 

Some people enjoy listening to relaxing music during treatment, but if you prefer peace and quiet, let us know. Some people may even fall asleep while getting treatment.

Side Effects

Acupuncture is generally safe, but there are risks, side effects, and sometimes complications as with any medical procedure. The risks are very rare but include:

  • Infection.
  • Bleeding.
  • Bruising at the insertion sites.
  • Soreness or minor pain.
  • Feeling faint or lightheaded.
  • Nerve damage. This is usually temporary and is more likely to occur with specific acupuncture points.

At Kaiser Permanente, we use sterile needles only once and then discard them so the risk of infection is small. If you experience minor bleeding from a needle insertion site after a treatment, please let us know.

If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.

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