Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine treatment that has been used for thousands of years. It involves placing very thin needles — no thicker than a few human hairs — through the skin at specific points in the body. For many patients, acupuncture can help manage pain, reduce anxiety, improve nausea and offer many other benefits.
At the University of Chicago Medicine, our team includes a thoracic surgeon who is specially trained to provide acupuncture before and after surgery.
Acupuncture and Surgery — Frequently Asked Questions
Having acupuncture within a few days of your procedure may help ease anxiety and improve pain control. If you are trying to get stronger for an operation that is further into the future, having acupuncture treatments for a month or more beforehand may improve your appetite and energy and support your prehabilitation before surgery.
After surgery, acupuncture can reduce any nausea from anesthesia and help you manage post-operative pain. This may help you recover more quickly.
Despite being used as a treatment for thousands of years, researchers aren’t fully certain how acupuncture works. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is thought to balance Qi (pronounced “chee”), or life force. Some Western scientists believe that acupuncture helps you retrain your brain’s pathways to change your body’s response to stimulation like pain.
When performed by a trained practitioner, acupuncture is considered safe for most people. At UChicago Medicine, a physician who is specially trained in acupuncture uses sterile needles that are only used one time. As a result, the risk of infection is very low.
Most people feel no pain or just a very slight amount of pain when the needles are first inserted. In general, patients describe it as a comfortable experience.
When you come to UChicago Medicine for treatment as an outpatient, you may be asked to complete a questionnaire about your overall health and lifestyle habits before your first acupuncture session.
During your first visit, you and your doctor will discuss your goals for treatment. Then the doctor will place a few (usually no more than 10) very thin, sterilized needles through the skin in areas such as your forehead, ears, hands and feet. This only takes a few minutes. Then you will relax quietly in a dimly lit room for about a half hour. After that, the doctor will remove the needles.
For treatment during hospitalization, the sessions are performed while you are in your hospital bed.
That depends on your goals. You may just need one treatment within a few days before your procedure. But if you are recovering from surgery or dealing with a chronic pain condition, your doctor may recommend two or three treatments a week for several weeks for the optimal effect.
For many cancer patients, acupuncture can help ease nausea, vomiting and pain. That is why UChicago Medicine offers acupuncture through the Comprehensive Cancer Center on an outpatient basis for patients with gynecologic or breast cancer.
At UChicago Medicine, we believe in offering a variety of alternative medicine treatments to patients who are interested in enhancing their health and wellness. This includes aromatherapy, massage therapy and reflexology.
Our Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care is also home to the Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research. For more than two decades, the center has been a leader in studying the safety and efficacy of medicinal herbs.
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To speak to someone directly, please call 1-888-824-0200. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.
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