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Updated: 01-Apr-2011


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History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture originated in China over 2000 years ago as one discipline in a complex tradition of Chinese medicine. The earliest major source on acupuncture, Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic), was compiled between 206 B.C.E. and 220 A.D. Acupuncture became widely known in the United States in 1971. New York Times reporter James Reston, in Beijing reporting on a Ping-Pong tournament between China and the United States, suffered an acute appendicitis. Reston wrote a front-page article describing how three acupuncture needles alleviated his postoperative appendectomy pain. Since that time, public and scientific interest in Acupuncture has gradually grown.

Acupuncture Principles
Traditional Chinese medicine theorizes that the 2,000+ acupuncture points on the body connect to form 12 main and 8 accessory pathways called meridians. The meridians are conduits for circulating Qi (chi) or life energy. Qi regulates the functions and essence of the body, mind and spirit. Qi follows the principles of Yin and Yang-the philosophy of opposites in balance. If the Qi in the body becomes blocked or unbalanced, then pain, illness and disease manifest. The acupuncture needles, when properly placed, unblock obstructions and restore a proper balance in the flow of Qi.

Western science has yet to conclusively identify any Qi or meridians. However, several mechanisms of action have been demonstrated with the proper placement of an acupuncture needle. An acupuncture needle is made of a stainless steel shaft with a copper or steel handle. Three physical phenomena occur with this construction:

  1. The thermoelectric effect-An electrical potential gradient is generated along the temperature gradient generated when a needle is placed into a warm body (Seebeck effect). The tip of the needle generates a positive charge, the handle becomes negatively charged.
  2. The bimetallic effect-An electromagnetic effect from the second metal spiraled around the shaft of the needle, reinforcing the charges generated by the thermoelectric effect.
  3. The electron transfer effect-Electrons are transferred from one metal to the other as the needle temperature varies (Peltier effect).

This needle charge generates a current of 2 to 3 micro-amperes. The current can be increased manipulating the needle, altering the temperature of the handle. Heating the handle results in a polarity flip, with the tip becoming negative and the handle positive. The charge not only affects the bodies nervous, vascular and lymphatic systems, but also affects muscle and fascia (and Qi of course).

Since 1958, electricity has been used in China for prolonged needle stimulation during surgeries. It is now widely used for management of pain problems with acupuncture. Two effects can be seen with electrical stimulation of the acupuncture needle. A low-frequency/high-intensity stimulation (2 to 4 Hz at 10 or more milli-amperes) affects the opioid/endorphin system. This produces a generalized analgesia that continues for some time after the stimulation has ended. A high-frequency/low-intensity stimulation (70 Hz at less than 10 milli-amps) affects the monoamine transmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dynorphin. This produces a segmental analgesia that lasts only as long as the needles are stimulated.

Conditions Treated with Acupuncture
Acupuncture is used to treat an array of injuries, painful conditions, and diseases. A few examples of conditions treated with Acupuncture include:

  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Perioperative pain
  • Perioperative nausea
  • Nausea associated with chemotherapy
  • Functional bowel disorders
  • Dental pain
  • Arthritis
  • Headaches
  • Asthma
  • Tinnitus
  • Depression
  • Chemical addiction
  • Fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia

Acupuncture research was minimal until it was brought into the Western world. Over the last 30 years, research has grown in quantity and quality. While it is difficult to design a gold-standard double blind, placebo controlled study due to the nature of acupuncture, significant basic science and clinical outcome research has been produced. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a consensus statement in 1997 indicating acupuncture was an effective treatment for nausea due to chemotherapy and surgical anesthesia. They also found that acupuncture may be useful for treating addiction, headaches, Fibromyalgia, low back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome. Most acupuncture research is directed toward pain control. Some recent clinical trials have shown:

  • Giles and Muller reported in Spine 2003 (28(14):1490-1502) that acupuncture was beneficial for chronic spinal pain.
  • Meng, et al. reported in Rheumatology 2003 (42(12):1508-17) that acupuncture was safe and effective adjunctive treatment for chronic low back pain.
  • Melchart, et al. reported in the Journal of Internal Medicine that acupuncture was effective for migraine headaches compared to placebo. It was as effective as sumatriptan for prevention of migraine attacks, but its effectiveness was less than sumatriptan for migraines in progress.

Many acupuncturists in America are trained in Traditional Chinese Medical schools, which emphasize herbal treatments with acupuncture also incorporated. Physicians training can be variable-from a few weekend seminars to intensive training courses. One of the best-organized and most respected physician acupuncture training programs is offered through the University of California, Los Angeles and the Helms Medical Institute. The Medical Acupuncture for Physicians course has trained over 5,000 physician acupuncturists.

The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture provides board certification in medical acupuncture for physicians. The AAMA also provides information resources for physicians and patients as well as continuing medical education for physicians.

You can also learn more about acupuncture at www.Acupuncture.com


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