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Acupuncture and Surgical Recovery

Acupuncture Before and After Surgery: Less Pain and Quicker Recovery 

Elias Lu, DTCM,

Acupuncture Physician

Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine in Tampa Bay, Florida

Surgical lights
Acupuncture can be used before, during, and after surgery to:
  • Relieve pain and anxiety
  • Decrease the need for opioids
  • Facilitate early ambulation
  • Relax and sleep better
  • Improve gastrointestinal peristalsis and decrease nausea
  • Dial down inflammation
  • Improve blood circulation and decrease swelling
  • Fasten wound healing
  • Reduce cosmetic scars 

Acupuncture Healing

Any surgical procedure, no matter how minor, takes a heavy toll on a person’s health. Pain, nausea, constipation, urinary retention, and other unpleasant symptoms we come to associate with surgery … will do little for a speedy recovery. Many people choose acupuncture to prepare for and recover from all types of surgery – back, shoulder, hip, knee, or abdomen. If you’re concerned about an upcoming surgical procedure and a speedy recovery afterward, consider acupuncture with Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine in St. Petersburg, Florida.


Does It Actually Work?

Modern science has been trying to understand the physiological mechanisms behind acupuncture for some time. The way we understand things now, acupuncture appears to be effective in treating the following symptoms associated with surgery:



The number one symptom to watch out for after surgery is, of course, pain. Yes, it may be a natural part of the healing process, but in addition to being emotionally draining, poorly controlled pain could lead to immunosuppression, delayed wound healing, increased risk of venous thromboembolism, and increased risk of postoperative infection. Fortunately, acupuncture can ease surgery-related pain quickly and naturally, helping to reduce your reliance on prescription pain medications.


Acupuncture helps with pain by stimulating the central nervous system to release chemicals (endorphins and other bioactive molecules) into the brain, spinal cord, and muscles. These neurotransmitters not only relieve pain but also promote the body's natural healing abilities.


Another way that acupuncture makes it easier for your body to handle pain is by enhancing your mood. Endorphins promote feelings of pleasure and wellbeing – this is akin to what you experience after a favorite meal or when laughing at a good joke.


Perioperative anxiety and stress

Acupuncture helps with pain. But the benefits don’t stop here. When used as a part of pre-op (preparation for surgery) and post-op (rehabilitation after surgery) regimen, acupuncture can also relieve the mental anxiety and tension that surrounds the procedure.


Indeed, surgery is a major source of neuroendocrine stress on the body. The sympathetic-adrenomedullary (epinephrine) and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (cortisol) systems go haywire breeding widespread inflammation and immunosuppression. Acupuncture plays a protective role by balancing sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and, consequently, decreasing the levels of norepinephrine, renin, cortisol, and aldosterone.


Inflammation and immune function

The stress of anesthesia and the surgery itself could lead to a decline in immune function. Acupuncture downregulates the proinflammatory messengers (TNF-α, IL-1β, IL-6, plasma endothelin) and upregulates the anti-inflammatory ones (IL-2 and IL-10, CGRP), thus blunting inflammation (both at the wound site and body-wide) and immunosuppression.


After-effects of anesthesia

Anyone who’s ever had general anesthesia dreads that feeling of grogginess, nausea, and even vomiting afterwards. Acupuncture appears to shorten the time it takes to wake up and get rid of nausea after surgery. One way it does this is by reducing the plasma concentration of serotonin. Additionally, acupuncture improves blood circulation helping to cleanse your body of anesthesia drugs.


Postoperative ileus

Acupuncture can shorten the recovery of bowel function (the time to first flatus and defecation) through several mechanisms: increasing parasympathetic (vagal) tone, stimulating the intestinal myenteric plexus, and/or activating α7nAChR-mediated cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathways.


Postoperative urinary retention

Acupuncture can promote postoperative bladder function recovery (spontaneous urination) by activating the brainstem (micturition center).


Cardiac function

Acupuncture shows promise in reducing atrial fibrillation after cardiac surgery. The exact mechanisms for acupuncture rhythm control are not well understood but are likely related to its anti-inflammatory and anti-sympathetic effect.


Cognitive function

Postoperative cognitive dysfunction frequently follows anesthesia and surgery. It’s postulated to involve several abnormalities in the brain (hippocampal area) namely neuroinflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, blood brain barrier disruption, and amyloid β formation. Acupuncture was found to noticeably improve the postoperative cognitive function by mitigating the above-mentioned pathological mechanism.



Another consequence of surgery is that it can change your sleep cycle. The pain of a major medical procedure, coupled with drugs used during surgery, can lead to insomnia. And not being able to rest is not conducive to recovery, to say the least.


Enter acupuncture – an incredibly soothing technique. As the needles are inserted, they promote relaxation and calm, making it much easier to sleep and heal after surgery.


Wound healing

Using acupuncture for wound healing is nothing new. Acupuncture facilitates wound healing in multiple ways. Firstly, acupuncture accelerates blood and lymphatic circulation, improving nutrient delivery to the tissues, facilitating the removal of cellular debris, and decreasing peri-wound edema. Secondly, acupuncture brings down oxidative stress by promoting the tricarboxylic acid cycle, suppressing ferroptosis, and facilitating the restoration of mitochondrial function. Finally, acupuncture promotes the formation of healthy granulation tissue and new blood vessel formation.



While we are not suggesting that acupuncture can replace physical therapy, we are saying that acupuncture will make your physical therapy more effective. This is how. Acupuncture helps with pain control, inflammation, edema, and flexibility. Hence, adding acupuncture to your postoperative rehab makes sense.


Scar reduction

Acupuncture and microneedling in postoperative period may reduce excessive collagen deposits around the surgical site thus keeping in check the amount of internal and external scarring.


How Many Treatments Are Needed?

If you are planning a surgical procedure, it’s a good idea to come in for two to three treatments two weeks prior. After your procedure, we recommend returning (or booking a house call) for acupuncture as soon as you’re feeling well enough to lie down or sit still for 15 minutes. Plan for 1-2 times a week, for a series of 4-8 treatments after surgery.


Who Is a Candidate for Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a safe holistic treatment that will benefit anyone, regardless of age or diagnosis. It’s an ideal supplement to physical therapy and other rehabilitative measures.


Where Should I Start?

Check with your insurance company to see if acupuncture is covered. Due to the ongoing opioid crisis, many plans have started paying for acupuncture. Even some hospitals now offer acupuncture and other complementary therapies as part of the surgical plan. If you are local to Tampa Bay, contact Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine and request a FREE introductory acupuncture session.


Give acupuncture a try anytime you are looking for pain relief or preparing for a procedure. You’ll be amazed at the results!


Baldawi, M., McKelvey, G., Patel, V. R., Krish, B., Kumar, A. J., & Patel, P. (2022). Battlefield Acupuncture Use for Perioperative Anesthesia in Veterans Affairs Surgical Patients: A Single-Center Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of integrative and complementary medicine, 28(8), 683–688.


Feingold, K. L., Moskowitz, J. T., Elenbaas, C., Andrei, A. C., Victorson, D., Kruse, J., Grote, V., Patil, K. D., Shafiro, T., Grimone, A., Lin, F., Davidson, C. J., Ring, M., & McCarthy, P. M. (2023). Acupuncture after valve surgery is feasible and shows promise in reducing postoperative atrial fibrillation: The ACU-Heart pilot trial. JTCVS open, 16, 321–332.


Kwon, S., Jin, C., Jeong, A., & Yang, S. B. (2021). Effects of acupuncture on postoperative recovery and extubation time: A protocol for systematic review and meta analysis. Medicine, 100(4), e24502.


Usichenko, T. I., Henkel, B. J., Klausenitz, C., Hesse, T., Pierdant, G., Cummings, M., & Hahnenkamp, K. (2022). Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Pain Control After Cesarean Delivery: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA network open, 5(2), e220517.


Wang, X. F., Lin, Q., Wang, G. H., Zhan, G. M., Liu, W., & Lin, Z. W. (2022). Electroacupuncture Stimulation Suppresses Postoperative Inflammatory Response and Hippocampal Neuronal Injury. Mediators of inflammation, 2022, 3288262.


Yuan, W., & Wang, Q. (2019). Perioperative acupuncture medicine: a novel concept instead of acupuncture anesthesia. Chinese medical journal, 132(6), 707–715.


Yang, S. B., Cho, S. Y., Kwon, S., Jung, W. S., Moon, S. K., Park, J. M., Ko, C. N., Shin, H. S., Lee, S. H., Koh, J. S., Kim, H., & Park, S. U. (2020). Acupuncture attenuates postoperative inflammation in patients after craniotomy: A prospective, open-label, controlled trial. Medicine, 99(11), e19071.


Yang, J. W., Shao, J. K., Wang, Y., Liu, Q., Liang, J. W., Yan, S. Y., Zhou, S. C., Yang, N. N., Wang, L. Q., Shi, G. X., Pei, W., & Liu, C. Z. (2022). Effect of acupuncture on postoperative ileus after laparoscopic elective colorectal surgery: A prospective, randomised, controlled trial. EClinicalMedicine, 49, 101472.


Zheng, C., Li, Z., Lu, H., & Zhou, Y. (2021). Effectiveness of Acupuncture on Urinary Retention: A Meta-Analysis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2021, 2500282.

doctor's picture

Dr. Elias Lu, DTCM is an acupuncture physician with Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine. In practice for over 25 years, he integrates traditional Chinese medicine with modern functional therapies to help people with chronic pain, trauma, neurodegenerative disorders, anxiety, depression, and many other life's challenges.

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