Acupuncture is an ancient traditional Chinese medical therapy that is used widely around the world. When practiced by a certified provider, it is safe and often perceived as calming and relaxing for patients. Animal and human studies have found a physiological basis for acupuncture needling in that it affects the complex central and peripheral neuro-hormonal network. Although it is unclear whether acupuncture is beneficial over sham/placebo acupuncture, acupuncture care yields clinically relevant short- and long-term benefits for low back pain, knee osteoarthritis, chronic neck pain, and headache. The integration of acupuncture into a primary care setting also appears to be cost-effective. Furthermore, the practice of acupuncture in primary care involves rigorous training, financial discipline, and art of communication. When it is done correctly, acupuncture proves to be beneficial for both patients and providers.
Acupuncture is part of the much larger system of healing called Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is one of the oldest healing systems still currently utilized by a significant proportion of Chinese and world populations. In this medical paradigm, in addition to acupuncture, therapeutic options include herbs, diet, exercise, such as Tai Chi, massage (Tuina), Qi Gong (energy therapy) and various other forms. TCM focuses on promoting the “inner balance” or homeostasis of the individual within the larger external environment. Any distortion from such balance is viewed as “ill.” One of the many key concepts in TCM is “Qi,” a vital energy that circulates throughout the body in 14 channels called meridians. When the flow of Qi becomes obstructed, pain or illness occurs. Putting needles at specific acupuncture points along the meridian seeks to “open the channel” and promote the healthy flow of Qi and, with that, health is restored.
The exact timing of when acupuncture was developed is highly debated, though some think it originated from over 5,000 years ago. The earliest source of systematic documentation of acupuncture theory is the Huang Di Nei Jing (the Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor), which dates back to the Han dynasty in the 2nd century BC. Like many medical systems, acupuncture theory and practice have evolved over the years in China and in the West. Many similar but different schools emerged, such as the Japanese, Korean, and French Energetic styles of acupuncture. With the increasing understanding of neuroscience and anatomy, the practice of acupuncture in China, as well as in the West, has become more neuromuscular-based for some musculoskeletal and neurological conditions. In the US, the predominant practice of acupuncture is still TCM based.