Needles being inserted into a person's skin
Acupuncture (from Latin, 'acus' (needle) + 'punctura' (to puncture)) is a form of alternative medicine and a key component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) involving inserting thin needles into the body at acupuncture points. It can be associated with the application of heat, pressure, or laser light to these same points. Acupuncture is commonly used for pain relief, though it is also used for a wide range of conditions. Clinical practice varies depending on the country. It is rarely used alone but rather as an adjunct to other forms of treatment. TCM theory and practice are not based upon scientific knowledge, and acupuncture is described as a type of pseudoscience.
Acupuncture is believed to have originated around 100BC in China, around the time The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (Huangdi Neijing) was published, though there is some evidence it could have been practiced earlier. Over time, conflicting belief systems emerged about the effect of lunar, celestial and earthly cycles, Yin and Yang energies, and a body's "rhythm" on the effectiveness of treatment. Acupuncture grew and diminished in popularity in China repeatedly, depending on the country's political leadership and the favor of rationalism or Western medicine. Acupuncture spread first to Korea in the 500s AD, then to Japan through medical missionaries, and then to Europe, starting with France. In the 1900s as it spread to the United States and Western countries, the spiritual elements of acupuncture that conflict with Western beliefs were abandoned in favor of anatomical rationalizations. Scientific investigation has not found any histological or physiological evidence for traditional Chinese concepts such as qi, meridians, and acupuncture points,[n 1] and many modern practitioners no longer support the existence of life force energy (qi) flowing through meridians, which was a major part of early belief systems.
The conclusions of many trials and numerous systematic reviews of acupuncture are largely inconsistent. An overview of Cochrane reviews found that acupuncture is not effective for a wide range of conditions[needs update] but there is some evidence that it may have a beneficial effect for eight conditions. There are other conditions for which is not enough high-quality evidence to draw any clear conclusions about efficacy. An overview of high-quality Cochrane reviews suggests that acupuncture may alleviate certain kinds of pain. A systematic review of systematic reviews found numerous contradictions in the evidence regarding acupuncture's effectiveness for treating pain.[n 2] The evidence suggests that short-term treatment with acupuncture does not produce long-term benefits. Some research results suggest acupuncture can alleviate pain, though other research consistently suggests that acupuncture's effects are mainly due to placebo. A systematic review concluded that the analgesic effect of acupuncture seemed to lack clinical relevance and could not be clearly distinguished from bias.
Acupuncture is generally safe when done by an appropriately trained practitioner using clean technique and single-use needles. When properly delivered, it has a low rate of mostly minor adverse effects. Accidents and infections are associated with infractions of sterile technique or neglect of the practitioner. In the last decade reports of infection transmission have increased significantly. Serious adverse effects are rare, and as training standards and licensure requirements have been enhanced, the number of incidents has declined. A meta-analysis found that acupuncture for chronic low back pain was cost-effective as an adjunct to standard care, while a systematic review found insufficient evidence for the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic low back pain.
- 1 Clinical practice
- 2 Effectiveness
- 2.1 Medical organization guidelines
- 2.2 Sham acupuncture and research
- 2.3 Publication bias
- 2.4 Specific conditions
- 2.4.1 Pain
- 2.4.2 Low back
- 2.4.3 Headaches and migraines
- 2.4.4 Osteoarthritis
- 2.4.5 Extremity conditions
- 2.4.6 Nausea and vomiting and post-operative pain
- 2.4.7 Allergies
- 2.4.8 Cancer-related conditions
- 2.4.9 Fertility and childbirth
- 2.4.10 Rheumatological conditions
- 2.4.11 Stroke
- 2.4.12 Irritable bowel syndrome
- 2.4.13 Other conditions
- 2.5 Moxibustion and cupping
- 3 Safety
- 4 Conceptual basis
- 5 History
- 6 Adoption
- 7 Regulation
- 8 See also
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine. It is commonly used for pain relief, though it is also used to treat a wide range of conditions. The majority of people who seek out acupuncture do so for musculoskeletal problems, including low back pain, shoulder stiffness, and knee pain. Acupuncture is rarely used alone but rather as an adjunct to other treatment modalities.
Acupuncture is the stimulation of specific acupuncture points along the skin of the body using thin needles. It can be associated with the application of heat, pressure, or laser light to these points. Classically, acupuncture is individualized and based on philosophy and intuition, and not on scientific research. In modern acupuncture, a consultation is followed by taking the pulse on both arms and inspecting the tongue. This initial evaluation may last up to sixty minutes. Subsequent visits typically last about a half an hour. The number and frequency of acupuncture sessions vary, but most practitioners do not think one session is sufficient. A common treatment plan for a single complaint usually involves six to twelve treatments, to be carried out over a few months. A typical session entails lying still while approximately five to twenty needles are inserted; for the majority of cases, the needles will be left in place for ten to twenty minutes. There is also a non-invasive therapy developed in early 20th century Japan using an elaborate set of "needles" for the treatment of children (shōnishin or shōnihari).
Clinical practice varies depending on the country. A comparison of the average number of patients treated per hour found significant differences between China (10) and the United States (1.2). Acupuncturists generally practice acupuncture as an overall system of care, which includes using traditional diagnostic techniques, acupuncture needling, and other adjunctive treatments. Chinese herbs are also often used. There is a diverse range of acupuncture approaches, involving different philosophies. Although various different techniques of acupuncture practice have emerged, the method used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) seems to be the most widely adopted in the US. Traditional acupuncture involves needle insertion, moxibustion, and cupping therapy. Traditional acupuncture may be accompanied by various ancillary procedures, such as palpation of the radial artery and other parts of the body and examining the tongue. Traditional acupuncture is the belief that a "life force" (qi) circulates within the body in lines called meridians. The main methods practiced in the UK are TCM and Western medical acupuncture. The term Western medical acupuncture is used to indicate an adaptation of TCM-based acupuncture which focuses less on TCM. Westerm medical acupuncture attempts to incorporate acupuncture with conventional evidence-based treatment, and largely distances itself from TCM's conceptual foundations such as qi and yin/yang. Western medical acupuncturists tend to focus less on acupuncture points and specific placement for needles.
The most common mechanism of stimulation of acupuncture points employs penetration of the skin by thin metal needles, which are manipulated manually or the needle may be further stimulated by electrical stimulation (electroacupuncture). Acupuncture needles are typically made of stainless steel, making them flexible and preventing them from rusting or breaking. Needles are usually disposed of after each use to prevent contamination. Reusable needles when used should be sterilized between applications. Needles vary in length between 13 to 130 millimetres (0.51 to 5.12 in), with shorter needles used near the face and eyes, and longer needles in areas with thicker tissues; needle diameters vary from 0.16 mm (0.006 in) to 0.46 mm (0.018 in), with thicker needles used on more robust patients. Thinner needles may be flexible and require tubes for insertion. The tip of the needle should not be made too sharp to prevent breakage, although blunt needles cause more pain.
Apart from the usual filiform needle, other needle types include three-edged needles and the Nine Ancient Needles. Japanese acupuncturists use extremely thin needles that are used superficially, sometimes without penetrating the skin, and surrounded by a guide tube (a 17th-century invention adopted in China and the West). Korean acupuncture uses copper needles and has a greater focus on the hand.
The skin is sterilized and the needles are inserted, frequently with a plastic guide tube. Needles may be manipulated in various ways, including spinning, flicking, or moving up and down relative to the skin. Since most pain is felt in the superficial layers of the skin, a quick insertion of the needle is recommended. Often, the needles are stimulated by hand in order to cause a dull, localized, aching sensation that is called de qi, as well as "needle grasp," a tugging feeling felt by the acupuncturist and generated by a mechanical interaction between the needle and skin. Acupuncture can be painful. The skill level of the acupuncturist may influence how painful the needle insertion is, and a sufficiently skilled practitioner may be able to insert the needles without causing any pain.
De-qi (Chinese: 得气; pinyin: dé qì; "arrival of qi") refers to a sensation of numbness, distension, or electrical tingling at the needling site which might radiate along the corresponding meridian. If de-qi can not be generated, then inaccurate location of the acupoint, improper depth of needle insertion, inadequate manual manipulation, or a very weak constitution of the patient can be considered, all of which are thought to decrease the likelihood of successful treatment. If the de-qi sensation does not immediately occur upon needle insertion, various manual manipulation techniques can be applied to promote it (such as "plucking", "shaking" or "trembling").
Once de-qi is achieved, further techniques might be utilized which aim to "influence" the de-qi; for example, by certain manipulation the de-qi sensation allegedly can be conducted from the needling site towards more distant sites of the body. Other techniques aim at "tonifying" (Chinese: 补; pinyin: bǔ) or "sedating" (Chinese: 泄; pinyin: xiè) qi. The former techniques are used in deficiency patterns, the latter in excess patterns. De qi is more important in Chinese acupuncture, while Western and Japanese patients may not consider it a necessary part of the treatment.
- Acupressure, a non-invasive form of bodywork, uses physical pressure applied to acupressure points by the hand, elbow, or with various devices.
- Acupuncture is often accompanied by moxibustion, the burning of cone-shaped preparations of moxa (made from dried mugwort) on or near the skin, often but not always near or on an acupuncture point. Traditionally, acupuncture was used to treat acute conditions while moxibustion was used for chronic diseases. Moxibustion could be direct (the cone was placed directly on the skin and allowed to burn the skin producing a blister and eventually a scar), or indirect (either a cone of moxa was placed on a slice of garlic, ginger or other vegetable, or a cylinder of moxa was held above the skin, close enough to either warm or burn it).
- Cupping therapy is an ancient Chinese form of alternative medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin; practitioners believe this mobilizes blood flow in order to promote healing.
- Tui na is a TCM method of attempting to stimulate the flow of qi by various bare-handed techniques that do not involve needles.
- Electroacupuncture is a form of acupuncture in which acupuncture needles are attached to a device that generates continuous electric pulses (this has been described as "essentially transdermal electrical nerve stimulation [TENS] masquerading as acupuncture").
- Sonopuncture is a stimulation of the body similar to acupuncture using sound instead of needles. This may be done using purpose-built transducers to direct a narrow ultrasound beam to a depth of 6–8 centimetres at acupuncture meridian points on the body. Alternatively, tuning forks or other sound emitting devices are used.
- Acupuncture point injection is the injection of various substances (such as drugs, vitamins or herbal extracts) into acupoints.
- Auriculotherapy, commonly known as ear acupuncture, auricular acupuncture, or auriculoacupuncture, is considered to date back to ancient China which involves inserting needles to stimulate points on the outer ear. The modern approach was developed in France during the early 1950s. There is no scientific evidence that it can cure disease; the evidence of effectiveness is negligible.
- Scalp acupuncture, developed in Japan, is based on reflexological considerations regarding the scalp area. Hand acupuncture, developed in Korea, centers around assumed reflex zones of the hand. Medical acupuncture attempts to integrate reflexological concepts, the trigger point model, and anatomical insights (such as dermatome distribution) into acupuncture practice, and emphasizes a more formulaic approach to acupuncture point location.
- Cosmetic acupuncture is the use of acupuncture in an attempt to reduce wrinkles on the face.
- Bee venom acupuncture is a treatment approach of injecting purified, diluted bee venom into acupoints.
- A 2006 review found for veterinary acupuncture that there is insufficient evidence to "recommend or reject acupuncture for any condition in domestic animals". Rigorous evidence for complementary and alternative techniques is lacking in veterinary medicine but evidence has been growing.
Medical organization guidelines
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The American College of Gastroenterology makes only a conditional recommendation of acupuncture due to the low level of evidence. The guideline states that acupuncture can be considered as an alternative therapy and may be associated with improved rates of gastric emptying and reduction of symptoms.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery reviewed the evidence for the use of acupuncture and found that the randomized trials were methodologically flawed. The guideline concluded with a statement suggesting that "Clinicians may offer acupuncture, or refer to a clinician who can offer acupuncture, for patients with allergic rhinitis who are interested in nonpharmacologic therapy."
The American Society of Anesthesiologists found no literature meeting its highest evidence grade in support of acupuncture, and issued its guideline using information rated as grade "B2" (suggestive) and grade "C2" (equivocal) discussing acupuncture treatment. It recommends that acupuncture may be considered in the treatment of patients with nonspecific, noninflammatory low back pain only in conjunction with conventional therapy.
Sham acupuncture and research
It is difficult but not impossible to design rigorous research trials for acupuncture. Due to acupuncture's invasive nature, one of the major challenges in efficacy research is in the design of an appropriate placebo control group. For efficacy studies to determine whether acupuncture has specific effects, "sham" forms of acupuncture where the patient, practitioner, and analyst are blinded seem the most acceptable approach. The under-performance of acupuncture in such trials may indicate that therapeutic effects are due entirely to non-specific effects, or that the sham treatments are not inert or systematic protocols yield less than optimal treatment. A common form of sham acupuncture is inserting needles on meridians not related to the specific condition being studied, or in places not associated with meridians.
A 2014 Nature Reviews Cancer review article found that "contrary to the claimed mechanism of redirecting the flow of qi through meridians, researchers usually find that it generally does not matter where the needles are inserted, how often (that is, no dose-response effect is observed), or even if needles are actually inserted. In other words, ‘sham’ or ‘placebo’ acupuncture generally produces the same effects as ‘real’ acupuncture and, in some cases, does better." A 2013 meta-analysis found little evidence that the effectiveness of acupuncture on pain (compared to sham) was modified by the location of the needles, the number of needles used, the experience or technique of the practitioner, or by the circumstances of the sessions. The same analysis also suggested that the number of needles and sessions is important, as greater numbers improved the outcomes of acupuncture compared to non-acupuncture controls. The research seems to suggest that needles do not need to stimulate the traditionally specified acupuncture points or penetrate the skin to attain an anticipated effect (e.g. psychosocial factors).
A response to "sham" acupuncture in osteoarthritis may be used in the elderly, but placebos have usually been regarded as deception and thus unethical. However, some physicians and ethicists have suggested circumstances for applicable uses for placebos such as it might present a theoretical advantage of an inexpensive treatment without adverse reactions or interactions with drugs or other medications. Many physicians in the UK appear to recommend alternative medicine, which raises ethical issues. As the evidence for most types of alternative medicine is far from strong such as acupuncture, the use of alternative medicine in regular healthcare can present an ethical question.
Acupuncture is perceptibly used at academic medical centers despite little or no convincing scientific evidence for explicit effects for any condition that is discernible from placebo. The evidence that the majority of CAM modalities, such as acupuncture, are little more than 'theatrical placebos' is so compelling that some proponents of acupuncture have essentially conceded this position by advocating the 'harnessing of placebo effects' or developing 'meaningful placebos'.
Using the principles of evidence-based medicine to research acupuncture is controversial, and has produced different results. The conclusions of many trials and numerous systematic reviews of acupuncture are largely inconsistent. Some research results suggest acupuncture can alleviate pain but others consistently suggest that acupuncture's effects are mainly due to placebo. The evidence suggests that any benefits of acupuncture are short-lasting. There is insufficient evidence to support acupuncture compared to mainstream medical treatments. Acupuncture is not better than mainstream treatment in the long term.
It has been argued that the numerous sham controls used in acupuncture trials cannot all be described as "placebo" controls.
Publication bias is cited as a concern in the reviews of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture. A 1998 review of studies on acupuncture found that trials originating in China, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan were uniformly favourable to acupuncture, as were ten out of 11 studies conducted in Russia. A 2011 assessment of the quality of RCTs on TCM, including acupuncture, concluded that the methodological quality of most such trials (including randomization, experimental control and blinding) was generally poor, particularly for trials published in Chinese journals (though the quality of acupuncture trials was better than the drug-related trials). The study also found that trials published in non-Chinese journals tended to be of higher quality. Chinese authors use more Chinese studies, which have been demonstrated to be uniformly positive. A 2012 review of 88 systematic reviews of acupuncture published in Chinese journals found that less than half of these reviews reported testing for publication bias, and that the majority of these reviews were published in journals with impact factors of zero.
A 2009 overview of Cochrane reviews found acupuncture is not effective for a wide range of conditions. A 2011 overview of high-quality Cochrane reviews suggests that acupuncture is effective for certain types of pain. A systematic review of systematic reviews found numerous contradictions in the evidence regarding acupuncture's effectiveness for treating pain. and concluded that numerous reviews have shown little convincing evidence that acupuncture is an effective treatment for reducing pain. The same review found that neck pain was one of only four types of pain for which a positive effect was suggested, but cautioned that the primary studies used carried a considerable risk of bias.
A 2014 systematic review suggests that the nocebo effect of acupuncture is clinically relevant and that the rate of adverse events may be a gauge of the nocebo effect. According to the 2014 Miller's Anesthesia book, "when compared with placebo, acupuncture treatment has proven efficacy for relieving pain". A 2012 meta-analysis conducted by the Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration found "relatively modest" efficiency of acupuncture (in comparison to sham) for the treatment of four different types of chronic pain, and on that basis concluded that it "is more than a placebo" and a reasonable referral option. Commenting on this meta-analysis, both Edzard Ernst and David Colquhoun said the results were of negligible clinical significance. Edzard Ernst later stated that "I fear that, once we manage to eliminate this bias [that operators are not blind] … we might find that the effects of acupuncture exclusively are a placebo response." Andrew Vickers, lead author of the original 2012 paper and chair of the Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration, rejects that analysis, stating that the differences between acupuncture and sham acupuncture are statistically significant.
A 2010 systematic review suggested that acupuncture is more than a placebo for commonly occurring chronic pain conditions, but the authors acknowledged that it is still unknown if the overall benefit is clinically meaningful or cost-effective. A 2010 review found real acupuncture and sham acupuncture produce similar improvements, which can only be accepted as evidence against the efficacy of acupuncture. The same review found limited evidence that real acupuncture and sham acupuncture appear to produce biological differences despite similar effects. A 2009 systematic review and meta-analysis found that acupuncture had a small analgesic effect, which appeared to lack any clinical importance and could not be discerned from bias. The same review found that it remains unclear whether acupuncture reduces pain independent of a psychological impact of the needling ritual.
A 2013 systematic review found supportive evidence that real acupuncture may be more effective than sham acupuncture with respect to relieving lower back pain, but there were methodological limitations with the studies. A 2013 systematic review found that acupuncture may be effective for nonspecific lower back pain, but the authors noted there were limitations in the studies examined, such as heterogeneity in study characteristics and low methodological quality in many studies. A 2012 systematic review found some supporting evidence that acupuncture was more effective than no treatment for chronic non-specific low back pain; the evidence was conflicting comparing the effectiveness over other treatment approaches. A 2011 overview of Cochrane reviews found inconclusive evidence regarding acupuncture efficacy in treating low back pain. A 2011 systematic review of systematic reviews found that "for chronic low back pain, individualized acupuncture is not better in reducing symptoms than formula acupuncture or sham acupuncture with a toothpick that does not penetrate the skin." A 2013 meta-analysis found that acupuncture was better than no treatment for reducing lower back pain, but not better than sham acupuncture, and concluded that the effect of acupuncture "is likely to be produced by the nonspecific effects of manipulation". A 2010 review found that sham acupuncture was as effective as real acupuncture for chronic low back pain. The specific therapeutic effects of acupuncture were small, whereas its clinically relevant benefits were mostly due to contextual and psychosocial circumstances. Brain imaging studies have shown that traditional acupuncture and sham acupuncture differ in their effect on limbic structures, while at the same time showed equivalent analgesic effects. A 2005 Cochrane review found insufficient evidence to recommend for or against either acupuncture or dry needling for acute low back pain. The same review found low quality evidence for pain relief and improvement compared to no treatment or sham therapy for chronic low back pain only in the short term immediately after treatment. The same review also found that acupuncture is not more effective than conventional therapy and other alternative medicine treatments.
Headaches and migraines
A 2012 review found that acupuncture has demonstrated benefit for the treatment of headaches, but that safety needed to be more fully documented in order to make any strong recommendations in support of its use. A 2009 Cochrane review of the use of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis treatment concluded that "true" acupuncture was no more efficient than sham acupuncture, but "true" acupuncture appeared to be as effective as, or possibly more effective than routine care in the treatment of migraines, with fewer adverse effects than prophylactic drug treatment. The same review stated that the specific points chosen to needle may be of limited importance. A 2009 Cochrane review found insufficient evidence to support acupuncture for tension-type headaches. The same review found evidence that suggested that acupuncture might be considered a helpful non-pharmacological approach for frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headache. A separate 2009 Cochrane review found that acupuncture could be useful in the prophylaxis of tension-type headaches.
As of 2014[update] a meta-analysis showed that acupuncture may help osteoarthritis pain but it was noted that the effects were insignificant in comparison to sham needles. A 2013 systematic review and network meta-analysis found that the evidence suggests that acupuncture may be considered one of the more effective physical treatments for alleviating pain due to knee osteoarthritis in the short-term compared to other relevant physical treatments, though much of the evidence in the topic is of poor quality and there is uncertainty about the efficacy of many of the treatments. A 2012 review found "the potential beneficial action of acupuncture on osteoarthritis pain does not appear to be clinically relevant." A 2014 review concluded that "current evidence supports the use of acupuncture as an alternative to traditional analgesics in osteoarthritis patients." A 2010 Cochrane review found that acupuncture shows statistically significant benefit over sham acupuncture in the treatment of peripheral joint osteoarthritis; however, these benefits were found to be so small that their clinical significance was doubtful, and "probably due at least partially to placebo effects from incomplete blinding".
A 2007 review found that acupuncture was significantly better than sham acupuncture at treating chronic knee pain; the evidence was not conclusive due to the lack of large, high-quality trials. A 2014 systematic review found moderate quality evidence that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture in the treatment of lateral elbow pain. A 2014 systematic review found that although manual acupuncture was effective at relieving short-term pain when used to treat tennis elbow, its long-term effect in relieving pain was "unremarkable".
Nausea and vomiting and post-operative pain
A 2014 overview of systematic reviews found insufficient evidence to suggest that acupuncture is an effective treatment for postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) in a clinical setting. A 2013 systematic review concluded that acupuncture might be beneficial in prevention and treatment of PONV. A 2009 Cochrane review found that stimulation of the P6 acupoint on the wrist was as effective (or ineffective) as antiemetic drugs and was associated with minimal side effects. The same review found "no reliable evidence for differences in risks of postoperative nausea or vomiting after P6 acupoint stimulation compared to antiemetic drugs."
A 2014 overview of systematic reviews found insufficient evidence to suggest that acupuncture is effective for surgical or post-operative pain. For the use of acupuncture for post-operative pain, there was contradictory evidence. A 2014 systematic review found supportive but limited evidence for use of acupuncture for acute post-operative pain after back surgery. A 2014 systematic review found that while the evidence suggested acupuncture could be an effective treatment for postoperative gastroparesis, a firm conclusion could not be reached because the trials examined were of low quality.
Acupuncture is an unproven treatment for allergic-immunologic conditions. A 2015 meta-analysis suggests that acupuncture might be a good option for people with allergic rhinitis (AR), and a number of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) support the use of acupuncture for AR and itch. There is some evidence that acupuncture might have specific effects on perennial allergic rhinitis (PAR), though all of the efficacy studies were small and conclusions should be made with caution. There is mixed evidence for the symptomatic treatment or prevention of AR. For seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR), the evidence failed to demonstrate specific effects for acupuncture. Using acupuncture to treat other allergic conditions such as contact eczema, drug rashes, or anaphylaxis is not recommended.
A 2012 systematic review of randomised clinical trials (RCTs) using acupuncture in the treatment of cancer pain found that the number and quality of RCTs was too low to draw definite conclusions. A 2011 Cochrane review found that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether acupuncture is an effective treatment for cancer pain in adults. A 2014 systematic review found that acupuncture may be effective as an adjunctive treatment to palliative care for cancer patients. A 2013 overview of reviews found evidence that acupuncture could be beneficial for people with cancer-related symptoms, but also identified few rigorous trials and high heterogeneity between trials.
A 2013 systematic review found that acupuncture is an acceptable adjunctive treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, but that further research with a low risk of bias is needed. A 2013 systematic review found that the quantity and quality of available RCTs for analysis were too low to draw valid conclusions for the effectiveness of acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue. A 2014 systematic review reached inconclusive results with regard to the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating cancer-related fatigue. A 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis found very limited evidence regarding the effectiveness of acupuncture compared with conventional intramuscular injections for the treatment of hiccups in cancer patients. The methodological quality and amount of RCTs in the review was low. A 2013 meta-analysis found that acupuncture plus education was superior to usual care for the treatment of cancer-related fatigue, but that it was not certain whether this was due to the acupuncture or the education. The same meta-analysis found that three other comparisons were not statistically significantly in favor of acupuncture.
Fertility and childbirth
A 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis found poor quality evidence for use of acupuncture in infertile men to improve sperm motility, sperm concentration, and the pregnancy rate; the evidence was rated as insufficient to draw any conclusion regarding efficacy. A 2013 Cochrane review found no evidence of acupuncture for improving the success of in vitro fertilization (IVF). A 2013 systematic review found no benefit of adjuvant acupuncture for IVF on pregnancy success rates. A 2012 systematic review found that acupuncture may be a useful adjunct to IVF, but its conclusions were rebutted after reevaluation using more rigorous, high quality meta-analysis standards. A 2011 overview of systematic reviews found that the evidence that acupuncture was effective was not compelling for most gynecologic conditions. The exceptions to this conclusion included the use of acupuncture during embryo transfer as an adjunct to in vitro fertilization. A 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis found that acupuncture did not significantly improve the outcomes of in vitro fertilization.
A 2013 Cochrane review found low to moderate evidence that acupuncture improves pain and stiffness in treating people with fibromyalgia compared with no treatment and standard care. A 2012 review found "there is insufficient evidence to recommend acupuncture for the treatment of fibromyalgia." A 2010 systematic review found a small pain relief effect that was not apparently discernible from bias; acupuncture is not a recommendable treatment for the management of fibromyalgia on the basis of this review.
A 2012 review found that the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat rheumatoid arthritis is "sparse and inconclusive." A 2005 Cochrane review concluded that acupuncture use to treat rheumatoid arthritis "has no effect on ESR, CRP, pain, patient's global assessment, number of swollen joints, number of tender joints, general health, disease activity and reduction of analgesics." A 2010 overview of systematic reviews found insufficient evidence to recommend acupuncture in the treatment of most rheumatic conditions, with the exceptions of osteoarthritis, low back pain, and lateral elbow pain.
A 2014 overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses found that the evidence does not demonstrate acupuncture helps reduce the rates of death or disability after a stroke or improve other aspects of stroke recovery, such as poststroke motor dysfunction, but the evidence suggests it may help with poststroke neurological impairment and dysfunction such as dysphagia, which would need to be confirmed with future rigorous studies. A 2012 review found evidence of benefit for acupuncture combined with exercise in treating shoulder pain after stroke. A 2010 systematic review found that acupuncture was not effective as a treatment for functional recovery after a stroke. A 2008 Cochrane review found that evidence was insufficient to draw any conclusion about the effect of acupuncture on dysphagia after acute stroke. A 2006 Cochrane review found no clear evidence for acupuncture on subacute or chronic stroke. A 2005 Cochrane review found no clear evidence of benefit for acupuncture on acute stroke. A 2014 meta-analysis found tentative evidence for acupuncture in cerebral infarction, a type of ischemic stroke, but the authors noted the trials reviewed were often of poor quality. Another 2014 meta-analysis found that the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating spasticity after a stroke was uncertain as the studies available were of poor quality. A 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis found that acupuncture could be effective to treat spasticity after stroke, but called for more studies to be conducted to determine how long its effects lasted. A 2015 systematic review analyzing a particular needling method found that it elicited a better effect than control treatment in reducing disability rate in ischemic stroke patients and that the long-term effects were better than that of control groups. A 2012 overview of systematic reviews found inconclusive evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for stroke.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Many US clinical trials on the use of acupuncture for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have found that it had no additional benefit over fake acupuncture treatments administered to a control group. Symptoms improved substantially for people receiving actual acupuncture and fake treatments, which is believed to result from the placebo effect. Many trials in China have found acupuncture to be more effective than pharmaceuticals and analyses conducted in China of the medical literature find it to be effective. This may be caused by an increased preference for acupuncture increasing the placebo effect, which was not taken into account with control groups.
For the following conditions, the Cochrane Collaboration or other reviews have concluded there is no strong evidence of benefit: alcohol dependence, angina pectoris, ankle sprain, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, asthma, bell's palsy, traumatic brain injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiac arrhythmias, cerebral hemorrhage, cocaine dependence, constipation, depression, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, drug detoxification, dry eye, primary dysmenorrhoea, dyspepsia, enuresis, endometriosis, epilepsy, erectile dysfunction, essential hypertension, glaucoma, gynaecological conditions (except possibly fertility and nausea/vomiting), hot flashes, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy in neonates, insomnia, induction of childbirth, labor pain, lumbar spinal stenosis, major depressive disorders in pregnant women, myopia, obesity, obstetrical conditions, Parkinson's disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, preoperative anxiety, psychological symptoms associated with opioid addiction, restless legs syndrome, schizophrenia, sensorineural hearing loss, smoking cessation, stress urinary incontinence, acute stroke, stroke rehabilitation, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, tennis elbow, labor induction, tinnitus, uremic itching, uterine fibroids, vascular dementia, and whiplash.
Moxibustion and cupping
A 2010 overview of systematic reviews found that moxibustion was effective for several conditions but the primary studies were of poor quality, so there persists ample uncertainty, which limits the conclusiveness of their findings. A 2012 systematic review suggested that cupping therapy seems to be effective for herpes zoster and various other conditions but due to the high risk of publication bias, larger studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions.
Acupuncture is generally safe when administered by an experienced, appropriately trained practitioner using clean technique and sterile single-use needles. When improperly delivered it can cause adverse effects. Accidents and infections are associated with infractions of sterile technique or neglect of the practitioner. To reduce the risk of serious adverse events after acupuncture, acupuncturists should be trained sufficiently. People with serious spinal disease, such as cancer or infection, are not good candidates for acupuncture. Contraindications to acupuncture are conditions that should not be treated with acupuncture; these contraindications include coagulopathy disorders (e.g. haemophilia and advanced liver disease), warfarin use, severe psychiatric disorders (e.g. psychosis), and skin infections or skin trauma (e.g. burns). Further, electroacupuncture should be avoided at the spot of implanted electrical devices (e.g. pacemakers).
A systematic review of case reports found that the number of adverse incidents has declined between 1965 to 1999. Many such events are not inherent to acupuncture but are due to malpractice of acupuncturists. This might be why such complications have not been reported in surveys of adequately-trained acupuncturists. Most such reports are from Asia, which may reflect the large number of treatments performed there or it might be because there are a relatively higher number of poorly trained Asian acupuncturists. Many serious adverse events were reported from developed countries. This included Australia, Austria, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. The number of adverse effects reported from the UK appears particularly unusual, which may indicate less under-reporting in the UK than other countries. 38 cases of infections were reported and 42 cases of organ trauma were reported. The most frequent adverse events included pneumothorax, and bacterial and viral infections.
A 2013 review found (without restrictions regarding publication date, study type or language) 295 cases of infections; mycobacterium was the pathogen in at least 96%. Likely sources of infection include towels, hot packs or boiling tank water, and reusing reprocessed needles. Possible sources of infection include contaminated needles, reusing personal needles, a person's skin contained mycobacterium and reusing needles at various sites in the same person. Although acupuncture is generally considered a safe procedure, in the last decade reports of infection transmission have increased significantly, including those of mycobacterium. Although it is recommended that practitioners of acupuncture use disposable needles, the reuse of sterilized needles is still permitted. It is also recommended that thorough control practices for preventing infection be implemented and adapted.
A 2013 systematic review of the English-language case reports found that serious adverse events associated with acupuncture are rare, but acupuncture is not without risk. Between 2000 and 2011, there were 294 adverse events reported in the English-language literature from 25 countries and regions. The majority of the reported adverse events were relatively minor, and the incidences were low. For example, a prospective survey of 34,000 acupuncture treatments found no serious adverse events and 43 minor ones, a rate of 1.3 per 1000 interventions. Another survey found there were 7.1% minor adverse events, of which 5 were serious, amid 97,733 acupuncture patients. The most common adverse effect observed was infection (e.g. mycobacterium), and the majority of infections were bacterial in nature, caused by skin contact at the needling site. Infection has also resulted from skin contact with unsterilized equipment or dirty towels, in an unhygienic clinical setting. Other adverse complications included five reported cases of spinal cord injuries (e.g. migrating broken needles or needling too deeply), four brain injuries, four peripheral nerve injuries, five heart injuries, seven other organ and tissue injuries, bilateral hand edema, epithelioid granuloma, pseudolymphoma, argyria, pustules, pancytopenia, and scarring due to hot needle technique. Adverse reactions from acupuncture, which are unusual and uncommon in typical acupuncture practice, were syncope, galactorrhoea, bilateral nystagmus, pyoderma gangrenosum, hepatotoxicity, eruptive lichen planus, and spontaneous needle migration.
A 2013 systematic review found 31 cases of vascular injuries were caused by acupuncture, 3 resulting in death. Two died from pericardial tamponade and one was from an aortoduodenal fistula. The same review found vascular injuries were rare, bleeding and pseudoaneurysm were most prevalent. A 2011 systematic review (without restriction in time or language), aiming to summarize all reported case of cardiac tamponade after acupuncture, found 26 cases resulting in 14 deaths, with little doubt about causality in most fatal instances. The same review concluded cardiac tamponade was a serious, usually fatal, though theoretically avoidable complication following acupuncture, and urged training to minimize risk.
A 2012 review found a number of adverse events were reported after acupuncture in the UK's National Health Service (NHS) but most (95%) were not severe. Though, miscategorization and under-reporting may alter the total figures. From January 2009 to December 2011, there were 468 safety incidents recognized within the NHS organizations. The adverse events recorded included retained needles (31%), dizziness (30%), loss of consciousness/unresponsive (19%), falls (4%), bruising or soreness at needle site (2%), pneumothorax (1%) and other adverse side effects (12%). Acupuncture practitioners should know, and be prepared to be responsible for, any substantial harm from treatments. Some acupuncture proponents argue that because of its long history this suggests it is safe. However, there is an increasing literature on adverse events (e.g. spinal cord injury).
Acupuncture seems to be safe in people getting anticoagulants, assuming needles are used at the correct location and depth. Studies are required to verify these findings. The evidence suggests that acupuncture might be a safe option for people with allergic rhinitis.
Chinese, South Korean, and Japanese-language
A 2010 systematic review of the Chinese-language literature found numerous acupuncture-related adverse events including pneumothorax, fainting, subarachnoid hemorrhage, and infection as the most frequent, and cardiovascular injuries, subarachnoid hemorrhage, pneumothorax, and recurrent cerebral hemorrhage as the most serious, most of which were due to improper technique. Between 1980 and 2009, the Chinese-language literature reported 479 adverse events. Prospective surveys shown that mild, transient acupuncture-associated adverse events ranged from 6.71% to 15%. A study with 190,924 patients, the prevalence of serious adverse events was roughly 0.024%. Another study shown a rate of adverse events requiring specific treatment was 2.2%, 4,963 incidences were among 229,230 patients. Infections, mainly hepatitis, after acupuncture are reported often in the English-language research, though it is rarely reported in the Chinese-language research, making it plausible that in China acupuncture-associated infections have been underreported. Infections were mostly caused by poor sterilization of acupuncture needles. Other adverse events included spinal epidural haematoma (in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine), chylothorax, injuries of abdominal organs and tissues, injuries in the neck region, injuries to the eyes, including orbital hemorrhage, traumatic cataract, injury of the oculomotor nerve and retinal puncture, hemorrhage to the cheeks and the hypoglottis, peripheral motor nerve injuries and subsequent motor dysfunction, local allergic reactions to metal needles, stroke, and cerebral hemorrhage after acupuncture.
A causal link between acupuncture and the adverse events cardiac arrest, pyknolepsy, shock, fever, cough, thirst, aphonia, leg numbness, and sexual dysfunction remains uncertain. The same review concluded that acupuncture can be considered inherently safe when practiced by properly trained practitioners, but the review also stated there is a need to find effective strategies to minimize the health risks. Between 1999 and 2010, the Republic of Korean-literature contained reports of 1104 adverse events. Between the 1980s and 2002, the Japanese-language literature contained reports of 150 adverse events.
Children and pregnancy
When used on children, acupuncture is safe when administered by well-trained, licensed practitioners using sterile needles; however, a 2011 review found there was limited research to draw definite conclusions about the overall safety of pediatric acupuncture. The same review found 279 adverse events, of which 25 were serious. The adverse events were mostly mild in nature (e.g. bruising or bleeding). The prevalence of mild adverse events ranged from 10.1% to 13.5%, an estimated 168 incidences were among 1,422 patients. On rare occasions adverse events were serious (e.g. cardiac rupture or hemoptysis), many might have been a result of substandard practice. The incidence of serious adverse events was 5 per one million, which included children and adults. When used during pregnancy, the majority of adverse events caused by acupuncture were mild and transient, with few serious adverse events. The most frequent mild adverse event was needling or unspecified pain, followed by bleeding. Although two deaths (one stillbirth and one neonatal death) were reported, there was a lack of acupuncture associated maternal mortality. Limiting the evidence as certain, probable or possible in the causality evaluation, the estimated incidence of adverse events following acupuncture in pregnant women was 131 per 10,000. Although acupuncture is not contraindicated in pregnant women, some specific acupuncture points that are particularly sensitive to needle insertion; these spots, as well as the abdominal region, should be avoided during pregnancy.
Moxibustion and cupping
Four adverse events associated with moxibustion were bruising, burns and cellulitis, spinal epidural abscess, and large superficial basal cell carcinoma. Ten adverse events were associated with cupping. The minor ones were keloid scarring, burns, and bullae; the serious ones were acquired hemophilia A, stroke following cupping on the back and neck, factitious panniculitis, reversible cardiac hypertrophy, and iron deficiency anemia.
A 2013 meta-analysis found that acupuncture for chronic low back pain was cost-effective as a complement to standard care, but not as a substitute for standard care except in cases where comorbid depression presented. The same meta-analysis found there was no difference between sham and non-sham acupuncture. A 2011 systematic review found insufficient evidence for the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic low back pain. A 2010 systematic review found that the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture could not be concluded. A 2012 review found that acupuncture seems to be cost-effective for some pain conditions.
Risk of forgoing conventional medical care
As with other alternative medicines, unethical or naïve practitioners may induce patients to exhaust financial resources by pursuing ineffective treatment. Profession ethical codes set by accrediting organizations such as the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine require practitioners to make "timely referrals to other health care professionals as may be appropriate." Stephen Barrett states that there is a "risk that an acupuncturist whose approach to diagnosis is not based on scientific concepts will fail to diagnose a dangerous condition".
Acupuncture is a substantial part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Many within the scientific community consider it to be quackery, pseudoscience and "theatrical placebo". Academics Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry describe it as a "borderlands science" lying between science and pseudoscience.
Early acupuncture beliefs relied on concepts that are common in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), such as the belief in life force energy called qi. qi was believed to flow from the body's primary organs (zang-fu organs) to the "superficial" body tissues of the skin, muscles, tendons, bones, and joints, through channels called meridians. Contemporary research has not supported the existence of qi or meridians.
Acupuncture points where needles are inserted are mainly (but not always) found at locations along the meridians. Acupuncture points not found along a meridian are called extraordinary points and those with no designated site are called "A-shi" points. The number of points have varied over time. Initially acupuncturists believed there were 365; the same number of days in a year (and in Han times, the number of bones thought to be in the body). The Nei ching mentioned only 160 and a further 135 could be deduced giving a total of 295. The modern total was once considered 670, but subsequently expanded due to more recent interest in auricular (ear) acupuncture and the treatment of further conditions. In addition, it is considered likely that some points used historically have since ceased being used.
In TCM, disease is generally perceived as a disharmony or imbalance in the functions or interactions of such concepts as yin, yang, qi, xuĕ, zàng-fǔ, meridians, and of the interaction between the body and the environment. Health is viewed by traditional acupuncturists as a balance of yin and yang, sometimes equated to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Therapy is based on which "pattern of disharmony" can be identified. In the case of the meridians, typical disease patterns are invasions with wind, cold, and damp Excesses. In order to determine which pattern is at hand, practitioners will examine things like the color and shape of the tongue, the relative strength of pulse-points, the smell of the breath, the quality of breathing, or the sound of the voice. TCM and its concept of disease do not strongly differentiate between cause and effect.
The acupuncturist decides which points to treat by observing and questioning the patient to make a diagnosis according to the tradition used. In TCM, the four diagnostic methods are: inspection, ausculation and olfaction, inquiring, and palpation. Inspection focuses on the face and particularly on the tongue, including analysis of the tongue size, shape, tension, color and coating, and the absence or presence of teeth marks around the edge. Auscultation and olfaction is listening for particular sounds (such as wheezing) and attending to body odor. Inquiring is focusing on the "seven inquiries": chills and fever; perspiration; appetite, thirst and taste; defecation and urination; pain; sleep; and menses and leukorrhea. Palpation is focusing on feeling the body for tender A-shi points and feeling the left and right radial pulses.
Some modern practitioners have embraced the use of acupuncture to treat pain, but have abandoned the use of qi, meridians, yin and yang as explanatory frameworks. Some practitioners no longer consider the idea of an energy flow to apply. They, along with acupuncture researchers, attribute the analgesic effects of acupuncture to the release of endorphins, and recognize the lack of evidence that it can affect the course of any disease. A 2014 review stated that despite ample controversy encircling the validity of acupuncture as a modality, developing literature on its physiological effects in animals and humans is giving new views into the basic mechanisms for acupuncture needling. The same review proposed a model combining both connective tissue plasticity and peripheral sensory modulation as a needle response for acupuncture's physiological effects.
It is a generally held belief within the acupuncture community that acupuncture points and meridians structures are special conduits for electrical signals but no research has established any consistent anatomical structure or function for either acupuncture points or meridians.[n 1] The electrical resistance of acupuncture points and meridians have also been studied, with conflicting results. There has been little systematic investigation of which components of an acupuncture session may be important for any therapeutic effect, including needle placement and depth, type and intensity of stimulation, and number of needles used.
Evidence indicates that acupuncture-induced pain relief effect, known as acupuncture analgesia, has physiological, anatomical and neurochemical origins. The mechanism of action for acupuncture is still unclear. Evidence suggests that acupuncture generates a sequence of events that include the release of endogenous opioid-like substances that modulate pain signals within the central nervous system, and that it is possible to inhibit acupuncture's analgesic effects with the opioid antagonist naloxone. In addition to endorphins, the serotoninergic descending inhibitory pathway has been suggested to play an important role in the pain-relieving effects of electroacupuncture. Excitatory amino acid receptors may also be involved. Mechanical deformation of the skin by acupuncture needles appears to result in the release of adenosine. The anti-nociceptive effect of acupuncture may be mediated by the adenosine A1 receptor. A 2014 Nature Reviews Cancer review article found that the key mouse studies that suggested acupuncture relieves pain via the local release of adenosine, which then triggered close-by A1 receptors "caused more tissue damage and inflammation relative to the size of the animal in mice than in humans, such studies unnecessarily muddled a finding that local inflammation can result in the local release of adenosine with analgesic effect." The use of qi as an explanatory framework has been decreasing in China, even as it becomes more prominent during discussions of acupuncture in the United States. Despite the scientific evidence against such mystical explanations, academic discussions of acupuncture still make reference to pseudoscientific concepts like qi and meridians, in practice making many scholarly efforts to integrate evidence for efficacy and discussions of the mechanism impossible. Qi, yin, yang and meridians have no counterpart in modern studies of chemistry, biology, physics, or human physiology and to date scientists have been unable to find evidence that supports their existence.[n 1]
It has been proposed that acupuncture's effects in gastrointestinal disorders may relate to its effects on the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, which have been said to be the "Western medicine" equivalent of "yin and yang". Another mechanism whereby acupuncture may be effective for gastrointestinal dysfunction involves the promotion of gastric peristalsis in subjects with low initial gastric motility, and suppressing peristalsis in subjects with active initial motility. Acupuncture has also been found to exert anti-inflammatory effects, which may be mediated by the activation of the vagus nerve and deactivation of inflammatory macrophages. Neuroimaging studies show that acupuncture stimulation results in deactivation of the limbic brain areas and the default mode network. The modulatory effects of acupuncture may be related to its ability to suppress a range of proinflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, IL1B, interleukin 6, and interleukin 10. Acupuncture may improve cognitive function by modulating signaling pathways that regulate neuronal survival and function.
Acupuncture, along with moxibustion, is one of the oldest practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Most historians believe the practice began in China, though there are some conflicting narratives on when it originated. Academics David Ramey and Paul Buell said the exact date acupuncture was founded depends on the extent dating of ancient texts can be trusted and the interpretation of what constitutes acupuncture.
According to an article in Rheumatology, the first documentation of an "organized system of diagnosis and treatment" for acupuncture was in The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine (Huangdi Neijing) from about 100 BC. Gold and silver needles found in the tomb of Liu Sheng from around 100 BC are believed to be the earliest archeological evidence of acupuncture, though it is still not known for sure if that was their purpose. According to Dr. Plinio Prioreschi, the earliest known historical record of acupuncture is the Shih-Chi ("Record of History"), written by a historian around 100 BC. It is believed that this text was documenting what was already established practice by this time.
The 5,000 year-old mummified body of Ötzi the Iceman was found with 15 groups of tattoos, many of which were located at points on the body where acupuncture needles are used for abdominal or lower back problems. Evidence from the body suggests Otzi suffered from these conditions. This has been cited as evidence that practices similar to acupuncture may have been practiced elsewhere in Eurasia during the early Bronze Age. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Medicine said this theory was "speculative". It's considered unlikely acupuncture was practiced before 2000 BC.
Acupuncture may have been practiced during the Neolithic era, near the end of the stone age, using sharpened stones called Bian shi.:70 Many Chinese texts from later eras refer to sharp stones called "plen", which means "stone probe", that may have been used for acupuncture purposes.:70 The ancient Chinese medical text, Huangdi Neijing, indicates that sharp stones were believed at-the-time to cure illnesses at or near the body's surface, perhaps because of the short depth a stone could penetrate.:71 However, it is more likely that stones were used for other medical purposes, such as puncturing a growth to drain its pus. The Mawangdui texts, which are believed to be from the 2nd century BC, mention the use of pointed stones to open abscesses, and moxibustion, but not for acupuncture. It's also speculated that these stones may have been used for bloodletting, due to the ancient Chinese belief that illnesses were caused by demons within the body that could be killed or released. It is likely bloodletting was an antecedent to acupuncture.
According to historians Lu Gwei-djen and Joseph Needham, there is substantial evidence that acupuncture may have begun around 600 BC. Some hieroglyphs and pictographs from that era suggests acupuncture and moxibustion were practiced. However, historians Gwei-djen and Needham said it was unlikely a needle could be made out of the materials available in China during this time period.:71-72 It's possible Bronze was used for early acupuncture needles. Tin, copper, gold and silver are also possibilities, though they are considered less likely, or to have been used in fewer cases.:69 If acupuncture was practiced during the Shang Dynasty (1766 to 1122 BC), organic materials like thorns, sharpened bones, or bamboo may have been used.:70 Once methods for producing steel were discovered, it would replace all other materials, since it could be used to create a very fine, but sturdy needles.:74 Gwei-djen and Needham noted that all of the ancient materials that could have been used for acupuncture and often produce archeological evidence, such as sharpened bones, bamboo or stones, were also used for other purposes. An article in Rheumatology said that the absence of any mention of acupuncture in documents found in the tomb of Ma-Wang-Dui from 198 BC suggest that acupuncture was not yet practiced by that time.
Several different and sometimes conflicting belief systems emerged regarding acupuncture. This may have been the result of competing schools of thought. Some ancient texts referred to using acupuncture to cause bleeding, while others mixed the ideas of blood-letting and spiritual ch'i energy. Over time, the focus shifted from blood to the concept of puncturing specific points on the body, and eventually to balancing Yin and Yang energies as well. According to Dr. David Ramey, no single "method or theory" was ever predominantly adopted as the standard. At the time, scientific knowledge of medicine was not yet developed, especially because in China dissection of the deceased was forbidden, preventing the development of basic anatomical knowledge.
It is not known for certain when specific acupuncture points were introduced, but the autobiography of Pien Chhio from around 400-500 BC references inserting needles at designated areas. Bian Que believed there was a single acupuncture point at the top of one's skull that he called the point "of the hundred meetings.":83 Texts dated to be from 156-186 BC document early beliefs in channels of life force energy called meridians that would later be an element in early acupuncture beliefs.
Ramey and Buell said the "practice and theoretical underpinnings" of modern acupuncture were introduced in the The Yellow Emperor's Classic (Huangdi Neijing) around 100 BC. It introduced the concept of using acupuncture to manipulate the flow of life energy (qi) in a network of meridian (channels) in the body. The network concept was made up of acu-tracts, such as a line down the arms, where it said acupoints were located. Some of the sites acupuncturists use needles at today still have the same names as those given to them by the Yellow Emporer's Classic.:93 Numerous additional documents were published over the centuries introducing new acupoints.:101 By the 300s AD, most of the acupuncture sites in use today had been named and identified.:101
Early development in China
Establishment and growth
In the first half of the first century AD, acupuncturists began promoting the belief that acupuncture's effectiveness was influenced by the time of day or night, the lunar cycle, and the season.:140-141 The Science of the Yin-Yang Cycles (Yün Chhi Hsüeh) was a set of beliefs that curing diseases relied on the alignment of both heavenly (thien) and earthly (ti) forces that were attuned to cycles like that of the sun and moon.:140-141 There were several different belief systems that relied on a number of celestial and earthly bodies or elements that rotated and only became aligned at certain times.:140-141 According to Needham and Gwei-djen, these "arbitrary predictions" were depicted by acupuncturists in complex charts and through a set of special terminology.
Acupuncture needles during this time period were much thicker than most modern ones and often resulted in infection. Even though infection was caused by a lack of sterilization, people at-the-time believed it was caused by using the wrong needle, in the wrong place, or at the wrong time.:102-103 Later many needles were heated in boiling water, or in a flame. Sometimes needles were used while they were still hot, creating a cauterizing effect at the injection site.:104 There were nine needles recommended in the Chen Chiu Ta Chheng from 1601, which may have been because of an ancient Chinese belief that nine was a magic number.:102-103
Other belief systems were based on the idea that the human body operated on a rhythm and acupuncture had to be applied at the right point in the rhythm to be effective.:140-141 In some cases a lack of balance between Yin and Yang were believed to be the cause of disease.:140-141
In the first century AD, many of the first books about acupuncture were published and recognized acupuncturist experts began to emerge. The Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing, which was published in the mid-200s, became the oldest acupuncture book that is still in existence in the modern era. Other books like the Yu Kuei Chen Ching, written by the Director of Medical Services for China, were also influential during this time period, but were not preserved. In the mid 600s, Sun Simiao published acupuncture-related diagrams and charts that established standardized methods for finding acupuncture sites on people of different sizes and categorized acupuncture sites in a set of modules.
Acupuncture became more established in China as improvements in paper led to the publication of more acupuncture books. The Imperial Medical Service and the Imperial Medical College, which both supported acupuncture, became more established and created medical colleges in every province.:129 The public was also exposed to stories about royal figures being cured of their diseases by prominent acupuncturists.:129–135 By time The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion was published during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD), most of the acupuncture practices used in the modern era had been established.
By the end of the Song dynasty (1279 AD), acupuncture had lost much of its status in China. It became rarer in the following centuries, and was associated with less prestigious professions like alchemy, shamanism, midwifery and moxibustion. Additionally, by the 1700s, scientific rationality was becoming more popular than traditional superstitious beliefs. By 1757 a book documenting the history of Chinese medicine called acupuncture a "lost art".:160
In 1822, the Chinese Emperor signed a decree excluding the practice of acupuncture from the Imperial Medical Institute. He said it was unfit for practice by gentlemen-scholars. In China acupuncture was increasingly associated with lower-class, illiterate practitioners. It was restored for a time, but banned again in 1929 in favor of science-based Western medicine. Although acupuncture declined in China during this time period, it was also growing in popularity in outher countries.
Korea is believed to be the first country in Asia that acupuncture spread to outside of China. Within Korea there is a legend that acupuncture was developed by emperor Dangun, though it is more likely to have been brought into Korea from a Chinese colonial prefecture in 514 AD.:262-263 Acupuncture use was commonplace in Korea by the 6th century. It spread to Vietnam in the 8th and 9th centuries. As Vietnam began trading with Japan and China around the ninth century AD, it was influenced by their acupuncture practices as well. China and Korea sent "medical missionaries" that spread traditional Chinese medicine to Japan, starting around 219 AD. In 553, several Korean and Chinese citizens were appointed to re-organize medical education in Japan and they incorporated acupuncture as part of that system.:264 Japan later sent students back to China and established acupuncture as one of five divisions of the Chinese State Medical Administration System.:264-265
Acupuncture began to spread to Europe in the second half of the 17th century. Around this time the surgeon-general of the Dutch East India Company met Japanese and Chinese acupuncture practitioners and later encouraged Europeans to further investigate it.:264-265 He published the first in-depth description of acupuncture for the European audience and created the term "acupuncture" in his 1683 work De Acupunctura. France was an early adopter among the West due to the influence of Jesuit missionaries, who brought the practice to French clinics in the sixteenth century. The French doctor Louis Berlioz (the father of the composer Hector Berlioz) is usually credited with being the first to experiment with the procedure in Europe in 1810, before publishing his findings in 1816.
By the 1800s, acupuncture had become commonplace in many areas of the world.:295 Americans and Britains began showing interest in acupuncture in the early 1900s. Western practitioners abandoned acupuncture's traditional beliefs in spiritual energy, pulse diagnosis, and the cycles of the moon, sun or the body's rhythm. Diagrams of the flow of spiritual energy, for example, conflicted with the West's own anatomical diagrams. It adopted a new set of rationality for acupuncture based on the idea of tapping needles into nerves. In Europe it was speculated that acupuncture may allow or prevent the flow of electricity in the body, as electrical pulses were found to make a frog's leg twitch after death.
The West eventually created a belief system based on Travell trigger points that were believed to inhibit pain. They were located in the same locations as China's spiritually identified acupuncture points, but under a different nomenclature. The first elaborate Western treatise on acupuncture was published in 1683 by Willem ten Rhijne.
Popularity of acupuncture in China rebounded in 1949 when Mao Tse-Tung took power and was seeking to unite China behind traditional cultural values. It was also during this time that many Eastern medical practices were consolidated under the name Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) term.
In 1971, a New York Times reporter published an article on his acupuncture experiences in China, which led to more investigation of and support for acupuncture. U.S. President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972 and was shown a patient undergoing major surgery while fully awake, allegedly using acupuncture rather than anesthesia. It was later discovered that the event was an elaborate hoax. After the National Institute of Health expressed support for acupuncture for a limited number of conditions, adoption in the US grew further. In 1972 the first legal acupuncture center in the U.S. was established in Washington DC and in 1973 the American Internal Revenue Service allowed acupuncture to be deducted as a medical expense.
New practices were adopted in the 1900s, such as using a cluster of needles,:164 electrified needles, or leaving needles in for up to a week.:164 A lot of emphasis developed on using acupuncture on the ear.:164 Acupuncture research organizations were founded in the 1950s and acupuncture services became available in modern hospitals. Meanwhile, China, where acupuncture originated, was increasingly influenced by Western medicine.
Politicians from the Chinese Communist Party said it was superstitious and that it conflicted with the party's commitment to science. Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong later reversed this position, arguing that the practice was based on scientific principles.
In 2006, a BBC documentary Alternative Medicine filmed a patient undergoing open heart surgery allegedly under acupuncture-induced anesthesia. It was later revealed that the patient had been given a cocktail of anesthetics.
Acupuncture is popular in China, the US, Australia, Europe, and in all five Nordic countries, though less so in Finland. It is most heavily practiced in China and one of the most common alternative medicine practices in Europe.:45
In the United Kingdom, a total of 4 million acupuncture treatments were administered in 2009. Acupuncture is used in most pain clinics and hospices in the UK. An estimated 1 in 10 adults in Australia used acupuncture in 2004. The use of acupuncture in Germany raised by 20% in 2007, after the German acupuncture trials supported its efficacy for certain uses, leading to support of certain insurance claims. As a result of these trials, acupuncture would be covered by public health insurers in Germany for chronic low back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee, though no coverage was offered for tension headache or migraine. This decision was based in part on socio-political reasons. Some insurers in Germany chose to stop reimbursement of acupuncture because of the trials. For other conditions, insurers in Germany were not convinced that acupuncture had adequate benefits over usual care or sham treatments. Highlighting the results of the placebo group, researchers refused to accept a placebo therapy as efficient. There were more than one million users in the country by 2011. It's estimated that 25 percent of the Japanese population will try acupuncture at some point, though in most cases in Japan it is not covered by public health insurance.
Users of acupuncture in Japan are more likely to be elderly and to have a limited education. Approximately half of users surveyed indicated a likelihood to seek such remedies in the future, while 37% did not. Insurance companies in Germany estimated that two-thirds of acupuncture users in the country are women. In Switzerland, acupuncture has become the most frequently used alternative medicine since 2004. Less than one percent of the US population reported having used acupuncture in the early 1990s. By the early 2010s, more than 14 million Americans reported having used acupuncture as part of their health care.
There are various government and trade association regulatory bodies for acupuncture in the United Kingdom, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Japan, Canada, in European countries and elsewhere. The World Health Organization recommends that before being licensed or certified, an acupuncturists receive 200 hours of specialized training if they are a physician and 2,500 hours for non-physicians; many governments have adopted similar standards.
In China, the practice of acupuncture is regulated by the Chinese Medicine Council that was formed in 1999 by the Legislative Council. It includes a licensing exam and registration, as well as degree courses approved by the board. Canada has acupuncture licensing programs in the provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec; standards set by the Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Association of Canada are used in provinces without government regulation. Regulation in the US began in the 1970s in California, which was eventually followed by every state but Wyoming and Idaho. Licensing requirements vary dramatically from state to state. The needles used in acupuncture are regulated in the US by the Food and Drug Administration. In some states acupuncture is regulated by a board of medical examiners, while in others by the board of licensing, health or education.
In Japan, acupuncture practitioners are licensed by the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare after passing an examination and graduating from a technical school or university. Australia regulates Chinese medical traditions through the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia and the Public Health (Skin Penetration) Regulation of 2000. It restricts the use of words like "Acupuncture" and "Registered Acupuncturist". At least 28 countries in Europe have professional associations for acupuncturists. In France, Académie Nationale de Médecine National Academy of Medicine has regulated acupuncture since 1955.
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- Placebo or sham acupuncture is a form of acupuncture that uses non-penetrating needles or needling at non-acupuncture points.
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