January 7, 2019

Need Pain Relief? Try Acupuncture Instead of Opioids

New government advisory recommends non-addictive options first

acupuncture on knee

Not all pain needs to be treated with prescription medication. That’s why a recent advisory recommends opioid-free, non-addictive alternatives, like acupuncture, as the first step to relieve pain.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Acupuncturist Jamie Starkey, LAC, says studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective for treating many types of pain.

We’re able to treat a host of pain-related issues such as chronic pain, neck pain and migraines. Any pain condition can really be nicely addressed with acupuncture with minimal, if any, side effects.

How acupuncture relieves pain

During acupuncture treatment, a trained medical professional gently inserts very fine needles into various parts of the body.

Research shows the pain relieving effect is three-fold, Starkey says.

  1. Acupuncture manipulates the nervous system to release natural pain relieving chemicals, called endorphins.
  2. Next, there’s a reduction of inflammation.
  3. Finally, specific areas of the muscles, called trigger points, can be targeted to calm spasms.

How many sessions of acupuncture do you need?

On average, Starkey recommends five to eight consecutive acupuncture visits for best results.

Not only do most people have less pain, but Starkey says they also have better function, sleep and mood.

“We not only see changes in their primary complaint, which would be improvement in pain scores. But we also see a lot of secondary improvement as well as an improvement in overall quality of life,” she notes.


Many insurance companies will cover acupuncture to treat pain, Starkey says. But if you have questions or concerns, she recommends calling your insurance provider for additional information.

Related Articles

physical therapist working with patient on their back
March 4, 2024
12 Ways To Treat Your Back Pain Without Surgery

From physical and biofeedback therapy to nerve ablations and blocks, there are many nonsurgical options for managing back pain

Close up of hand in blue gloves inserting dry needling into muscles
February 13, 2024
What’s the Difference Between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?

Both can help reduce pain, but they’re very different in terms of origins, philosophies and practices

Person lying on exam table gets accupuncture from doctor to help in conception.
February 20, 2023
Acupuncture for Fertility: Can It Help You Get Pregnant?

It’s great for stress relief, which can go a long way when you’re trying to conceive

Ginger Tea health benefits
January 30, 2023
Why Ginger Offers Health Benefits

Pain relief and nausea reduction are just two of this root’s many positive attributes

Male taking medication with water.
November 9, 2022
Can Drugs Lower Your Sperm Count?

Various prescription medications and recreational drugs can have an impact

moxibustion on acupuncture needles in skin on adult's back
February 8, 2022
Moxibustion: What Is It and Does It Work?

This ancient treatment is often a complement to acupuncture

An older adult sitting on a couch making a fist with both hands
November 15, 2021
What Is the Spoon Theory Metaphor for Chronic Illness?

This analogy can help you explain the daily struggle of chronic pain

ear acupuncture NADA
October 13, 2021
Can NADA Acupuncture Help With Addiction and Trauma?

Discover the benefits of this ear acupuncture technique

Trending Topics

White bowls full of pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate and various kinds of nuts
25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating

A healthy diet can easily meet your body’s important demands for magnesium

Woman feeling for heart rate in neck on run outside, smartwatch and earbuds
Heart Rate Zones Explained

A super high heart rate means you’re burning more than fat

Spoonful of farro salad with tomato
What To Eat If You’ve Been Diagnosed With Prediabetes

Type 2 diabetes isn’t inevitable with these dietary changes