Electroacupuncture involves running a small electrical current between two acupuncture needles. Electroacupuncture is quite similar to acupuncture as it uses the same sort of needles, can treat similar conditions except it has the added benefit of the additional stimulation provided by the electric current.


How does electroacupuncture work?

Just like regular acupuncture, electroacupuncture works by treating a blocked or disrupted flow of qi. This added stimulation of these points will help to increase the effect of the acupuncture and can help to restore the flow of qi faster. Electroacupuncture block pain by activating bioactive chemicals, including opioids that desensitise peripheral pain receptors, reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines both peripherally and in the spinal cord and serotonin and norepinephrine (1).

The electroacupuncture can also have effects similar to that of a TENS or interferential machine. These machines work on the pain gate theory where the stimulation or tingling sensation at the muscles is used to help block the pain pathways of the deep C fibers. This works as the nerves that transmit sensation are much faster than the nerves that communicate chronic pain. This causes the body to forget about the chronic pain and focus on the pleasant tingling.

The added benefit of having this stimulation through the acupuncture needles is two fold. The first is that instead of just having the tingling on the skin and into the superficial muscles the acupuncture needles are able to take the stimulation deep into the muscles. Secondly, sometimes TENS or interferential can be uncomfortable due to the surface interference between the connectivity of the electrodes and your skin. Electroacupuncture avoids this as the needles go through the skin and into the muscles.

What can electroacupuncture treat?

Electroacupuncture can treat most conditions that acupuncture treats. It can be useful to help with pain relief including knee, back or shoulder pains. It can help with arthritis pain, as well as providing another treatment option for anxiety, depression, stress or fibromyalgia.

What are the risks

Electro acupuncture is generally very safe when performed by a skilled provider. If it’s not performed correctly there is a risk of pain or even a shock. If you have any concerns or have any of the below conditions please talk to your acupuncturist before trying electroacupuncture.

  • Are currently or think you may be pregnant
  • Have heart disease
  • Have a pacemaker
  • Have epilepsy
  • Experience seizures
  • Sinus issues
  • Have had a stroke

What does electroacupuncture feel like?

Depending on the amount and intensity of the stimulation the feeling can range from a slight humming sensation to a slight knocking feeling or twitching of the muscle. The idea isn’t to cause discomfort so the therapist will adjust the intensity of the stimulation to suit your preference. You may find that during the treatment the stimulation will start reducing as you get used to it, at this point the therapists may increase the stimulation if you would like.

Does electroacupuncture hurt?

As with all types of acupuncture there is a slight risk that you will feel some discomfort with the needles being inserted. We are all familiar with giving blood or getting an injection, well acupuncture is significantly less painful than that because the needles are actually much smaller. When giving blood or getting an injection the needles are hollow. An acupuncture needle is what we call monofilament, this means it’s more like a small piece of wire or a very thin pin.The needle actually needs a guide tube to allow insertion through the skin, without this tube the needle will just bend. 

The electro component has a slight risk of getting too much stimulation or feeling a bit intense. The therapist can easily turn down the current to help reduce this effect.

Would you like to try electroacupuncture?

If you are curious about electroacupuncture and would like to give it a go, the best approach is to talk to your acupuncturist and mention that you would like to try it. The therapist can do their normal acupuncture session on you and try a little bit of electroacupuncture so you can see if you like it.

Your acupuncturist will place two small acupuncture needles in the same way as you are used to and they can run a slight current between them. At first you won’t feel anything at all, then the therapist will slowly increase the current until you start to feel the smallest amount of tingling or twitching. At this point the acupuncturist will check with you to make sure everything is fine and they can increase the stimulation more if you would like, or just leave it at the for a short amount of time.


(1) Mechanisms of Acupuncture-Electroacupuncture on Persistent Pain. Ruixin Zhang, Ph.D., Lixing Lao, Ph.D., Ke Ren, Ph.D., and Brian M. Berman, M.D.