Acupuncture has ancient roots. The theory and practice of acupuncture originated in the area that now occupies much of modern-day China. It has been an integral part of the medical practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 2,500 years. It actually may have been practised in Eurasia as early as the Stone Age, as archaeologists have unearthed early acupuncture needles made of stone and animal bone, which date back to the Stone Age.
The first written description of diagnosis and treatment using acupuncture needles appears in The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, written around 300 BC in China. The Chinese developed the practice, creating needles with bamboo, and metals like copper, silver, iron, bronze, or gold. There is some suggestion that the hypodermic needle so often used in Western medical practice was inspired from these early acupuncture needles.
Contemporary acupuncture uses needles made of stainless steel, silver and gold which are considerably thinner (ranging from 0.12 to .3mm) and more flexible than their predecessors.
When discussing acupuncture, it may be helpful to understand the philosophy that acupuncture practice arises from.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, one of the body’s life forces, the energy that generally describes the function (rather than substance), is termed Qi (pronounced chee). It is understood to flow along 12 to 14 pathways called meridians, between and through the surface of the body (skin, fascia, muscle, bone) and its internal organs. An imbalance or disruption to this flow of energy can trigger illness.
It is important to understand that much of the language that is used by Acupuncturists and Chinese medicine practitioners to describe Eastern philosophy and medical knowledge is like using Shakespearean language today to describe modern medical terms. There is a lot in translation.
Traditional Chinese medicine theory claims that the human body has between 365 to 2,000 nerve-rich acupuncture points that together create pathways (meridians) of microcirculation and physiological action. Stimulating these acupuncture points, zones and meridians is considered to release blockages and restore the body’s own balance. It is also a way of engaging the somatosensory system. Acupuncture is often used to encourage blood circulation to an area and reduce pain.
There may not be one process that describes how acupuncture works scientifically. The body is comprised of multiple systems and therefore there may be more than one process engaged when acupuncture is given.
Numerous research studies suggest that acupuncture (and moxibustion) may activate neurohormonal pathways and trigger biochemical processes in the body. Within this view, ‘findings from basic medical research suggest that acupuncture stimulation causes release of endorphins, serotonin, enkephalins, and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA, a major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the brain), norepinephrine, and dopamine’ (Lu & Lu, 2013).
The acupuncture needles seem to work by stimulating the specific nerve and biochemical processes that activate the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. For example, endorphins and Beta-Endorphins work by binding to opioid receptors in your brain to block the perception of pain, similar to opioid pain medications such as oxycodone or morphine.
In other recent studies, acupuncture decreases pain by reducing pro inflammatory markers or proteins in the body. For example, a study by Lim et al. (2016) suggests that acupuncture can decrease pro inflammatory markers — including TNF and IL-1β — in the body, in turn lowering inflammation and reducing pain.
Another study from Zhao et al. (2015) suggests something similar in the imbalance between Th17 and Treg cells in the disruption of intestinal homeostasis in Crohn’s Disease. This study demonstrates that acupuncture and moxibustion ‘reduced the number of TH17 cells and inhibited the expression of TH17-related molecules IL-17 and RORγt in the intestinal mucosa. It also increased the number of Treg cells and the expression of Treg-specific transcription factor FOXP3, thus restoring the ratio of the two cell types.’
Under Australian law, acupuncturists must use pre-sterilised, single-use needles. These needles are crafted of solid, flexible stainless steel and are extremely fine, as thin as a strand of hair (around 0.2 mm wide), and not designed to penetrate arteries or veins. Once inserted into skin, fascia and muscle tissue, they may be stimulated through gentle or specific movements by the acupuncturist, sometimes with the help of an electronic pulse device (electroacupuncture).
Typically, acupuncture needles stay in place for 25 to 40 minutes, shorter time frames for weakened or overly sensitive people, longer for chronic conditions and non-retained needling is usually done with children.
An acupuncturist may combine acupuncture with additional treatments used by Traditional Chinese Medicine. These include:
What are the benefits of acupuncture? According to an evidence-based review of clinical literature, acupuncture can assist in treating a wide number of physical, neurological, mental and emotional ailments. The ailments that have been backed up by both clinical experience and research include:
Choosing an acupuncturist can be perplexing, especially if you have never received acupuncture treatment before.
Here are some guidelines to follow:
Once you’ve found a potential acupuncturist, it’s worthwhile to ask them the following questions to ensure they are credible and a good fit for you.
To view ANTA's commitment to the delivery of quality health care, public safety and promoting informed choices in Acupuncture read our Scope and Standards of Practice.
Scope and Standards of Practice - Acupuncture
Click here to find an Acupuncturist in your area!
View ANTA Recognised Courses