Several Cruise Lines Offering Acupuncture to their Guests

Several cruise lines including Celebrity, Carnival, and Silver Sea are now offering acupuncture as part of their services to their passengers. I became curious about the procedure after viewing a recent episode “The Dog Whisperer”, (of all things) where a human dog owner was able obtain pain and stress relief from acupuncture.


Acupuncture is the procedure of inserting and manipulating fili-form needles into various points on the body to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes. There are two schools of thought, one the traditional Chinese medical theories, and the other the more modern clinical practice. While the ancient school is based on a pre-scientific paradigm of medicine, the modern clinical practice is considered complementary medicine by the American Medical Association. The ancient practice supposed that the needles allow the practitioner to manipulate the “chi” or life energy and thus relieve pain. Modern medicine supposes that the insertion of the needles causes the body to release its own natural pain killer, endorphins, thus relieving pain in the patient.


Scientific study of the procedures has returned mixed results. A Copenhagen study release in 2009 found that acupuncture was no more effective than placebo in relieving pain. Researchers in Copenhagen analyzed evidence from 13 acupuncture pain trials involving over 3,000 patients with a broad range of pain conditions, including osteoarthritis, migraine, and lower back pain. They found no clear clinical evidence of a pain-relieving effect in patients who received acupuncture compared to those who received either no acupuncture or an acupuncture placebo. However, other studies have shown acupuncture to be at least somewhat effective in the treatment of neck pain, headache, and post operative nausea and vomiting.

Patient Testimonials

Still many patients report being helped tremendously by acupuncture. One of the first western testimonials about acupuncture came in 1971 from New York Times reporter James Reston who received acupuncture as part of his post operative treatment following an emergency appendectomy in China. He reported that after receiving acupuncture in his arm, his stomach and abdomen relaxed relieving much of his post operative pain. His story and countless others are featured on the pro-acupuncture website In my original example, on the television show the Dog Whisperer, the human dog owner who had been suffering chronic pain since an injury, reported being able to sleep through the night with out medication for the first time after her acupuncture treatment. In an article on, cruise ship acupuncture therapist Stephanie Kimber reports that her patients at sea had even better results than her land based patients. She attributes this observation to the stress free atmosphere of a cruise ship. I have met several passengers during my cruises that have reported nearly immediate pain relief from their treatment.


According to several sources, acupuncture is a relatively safe procedure. Because acupuncture needles penetrate the skin, many forms of acupuncture are invasive procedures, and therefore not without risk. Injuries are rare among patients treated by trained practitioners. In most jurisdictions, needles are required by law to be sterile, disposable and used only once; in some places, needles may be reused if they are first re-sterilized, e.g. in an autoclave. A survey of adverse events related to acupuncture gave rates of 671 minor adverse events per 10,000 treatments, and no major ones. Another survey found that out of 3535 treatments, 402 resulted in minor adverse events including bleeding, bruising, dizziness, fainting, nausea, paresthesia, increased pain and in one case aphasia. That survey concluded: “Acupuncture has adverse effects, like any therapeutic approach. If it is used according to established safety rules and carefully at appropriate anatomic regions, it is a safe treatment method.”

Your Next Cruise

Your next cruise may give you the opportunity to try acupuncture. As a source of additional revenue for the cruise line, trends would seem to indicate that more and more cruise lines will be offering this service. Silver Sea announced that their new “medi-spa” program will not only offer acupuncture but also physician administered Botox and other medical anti-wrinkle treatments. If all of this seems a bit over the top, you can still relax in the more traditional ways, whether it be a more traditional spa massage, or simply taking in a beautiful view while the ship sails away.