What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture improves the body’s functions and promotes the natural self-healing process by stimulating specific anatomic sites--commonly referred to as acupuncture points, or acupoints. The most common method used to stimulate acupoints is the insertion of fine, sterile needles into the skin. Pressure, heat, or electrical stimulation may further enhance the effects. Other acupoint stimulation techniques include: manual massage, moxibustion or heat therapy, cupping, and the application of topical herbal medicines and linaments.


Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine having its origins in China, some suggest as early as 6000BC. The earliest evidence however is from a tomb unearthed in 198BC, where documents of the meridian system where found. Acupuncture procedures evolved over the next couple of centuries, but it was not until the 15th century that bronze statues depicting acupuncture points that are used today appeared.

Acupuncture meridiansTraditional Theory

The traditional theory of acupuncture believes that qi energy flows within the human body and this energy can be channelized to create balance and health. Acupuncture theory suggests that qi moves throughout the body along 12 main channels known as meridians. These meridians represent the major organs and functions of the body. These meridians however do not follow the exact pathways of nerves or blood flow.

Modern Theory for Treatment of Pain

The Two-Gate theory of acupuncture for treating painThere are a number of theories as to how acupuncture works, but the two-gate theory is the most widely accepted today. Man and Chen in 1980 came up with this theory to explain the effectiveness of acupuncture. In this theory, there exist two main nerve fibers: A-beta and C nerve fibers. The A-beta nerve fibers are large, fast conducting, and have a low volt threshold while the C nerve fibers are small, slow conducting, and have a high volt threshold.

The theory states that when high amount of impulses coming from A-beta fibers closes the gate in the substantia gelatinosa there is prevention of passage of painful impulses from the C fibers.

Acupuncture acts as a pain-reliever by stimulating the acupuncture points, which affect the A-beta nerve fibers. The needles move to create a steady stream of non-pain impulses transmitted to the substantia gelatinosa causing the gate to close. Once the gate is closed the pain impulses are stopped. Thus, no pain is felt.

The impulses from the A-beta fibers can transmitted to the thalamus, which serves as the final gate. This gate is closed to produce pain relief in the entire body.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Stand on Evidence Based Acupuncture

Hundreds of clinical studies on the benefits of acupuncture show that it successfully treats conditions ranging from musculoskeletal problems (back pain, neck pain, and others) to nausea, migraine headache, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and infertility.

Case-controlled clinical studies have shown that acupuncture has been an effective treatment for the following diseases, symptoms or conditions:

Allergic rhinitis (including hay fever)
Biliary colic
Depression (including depressive neurosis and depression following stroke)
Dysentery, acute bacillary
Dysmenorrhoea, primary
Epigastralgia, acute (in peptic ulcer, acute and chronic gastritis, and gastrospasm)
Facial pain (including craniomandibular disorders)
Hypertension, essential
Hypotension, primary
Induction of labor
Knee pain
Low back pain
Malposition of fetus, correction
Morning sickness
Nausea and vomiting
Neck pain
Pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction)
Periarthritis of shoulder
Postoperative pain
Renal colic
Rheumatoid arthritis
Tennis elbow

The following diseases, symptoms or conditions have limited but probable evidence to support the therapeutic use of acupuncture:

Abdominal pain (in acute gastroenteritis or due to gastrointestinal spasm)
Acne vulgaris
Alcohol dependence and detoxification
Bell’s palsy
Bronchial asthma
Cancer pain
Cardiac neurosis
Cholecystitis, chronic, with acute exacerbation
Competition stress syndrome
Craniocerebral injury, closed
Diabetes mellitus, non-insulin-dependent
Epidemic haemorrhagic fever
Epistaxis, simple (without generalized or local disease)
Eye pain due to subconjunctival injection
Female infertility
Facial spasm
Female urethral syndrome
Fibromyalgia and fasciitis
Gastrokinetic disturbance

Gouty arthritis
Hepatitis B virus carrier status
Herpes zoster (human (alpha)

 herpesvirus 3)
Labour pain
Lactation, deficiency
Male sexual dysfunction, non-organic
Ménière disease
Neuralgia, post-herpetic
Opium, cocaine and heroin dependence
Pain due to endoscopic examination
Pain in thromboangiitis obliterans
Polycystic ovary syndrome (Stein-Leventhal syndrome)
Post-extubation in children
Postoperative convalescence
Premenstrual syndrome
Prostatitis, chronic
Radicular and pseudoradicular pain syndrome
Raynaud syndrome, primary
Recurrent lower urinary-tract infection
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
Retention of urine, traumatic
Sialism, drug-induced (excessive salivation)
Sjögren syndrome
Sore throat (including tonsillitis)
Spine pain, acute
Stiff neck
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction
Tietze syndrome
Tobacco dependence
Tourette syndrome
Ulcerative colitis, chronic
Vascular dementia
Whooping cough (pertussis)

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