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Introduction to acupuncture

Acupuncture is stimulation of special points on the body, which is done by  insertion of fine needles. These special points are nothing but stimulation points or trigger points located on the surface of human body.1

History of acupuncture

This therapy or treatment originated in China, which dates back to 19th century and is performed based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. It is known that acupuncture has been practiced in Asia for at least 2500 years and its first known documentation was written in China almost 2300 years ago. This therapy was also practiced in Japan, Korea and other Asian countries. Although the details of the practice differ between the individual schools, the traditional acupuncture theory remains the same.1,2

Principles of Acupuncture

According to the Chinese School of Thought, an illness is described and defined by divisions of Yin and Yang polar opposites [interior and exterior, cold or hot, deficient or excessive]. Accordingly, half of the body’s organs are defined as Yin in relation to the other half called Yang and it is believed that for every living thing to sustain life, there should be a balance between these two forces. When Yin and Yang are out of balance in the body, a disease may occur.

Qi [which is pronounced as chee] is a form of energy that flows or circulates through the body in a predictable manner, which is determined in part by the balancing forces of Yin and Yang. Any disruption of this flow is thought to cause disease. The manipulation of the flow of this energy [qi] with acupuncture reestablishes this balance of Yin and Yang and therefore restores a healthy state.

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Methods of acupuncture therapy

The concept of acupuncture remains the same as said earlier though the method of treatment differs from one place to another. The acupuncture therapy involves the stimulation of certain points (called trigger points or acupuncture points) on the skin typically by inserting fine needles wherein it is believed that stimulation of relevant trigger points on the body surface would either prevent or cure the underlying disorder.   

Acupuncture is developed in distinct version in China, Japan and Korea, and is practiced in multiple approaches. Acupuncture practiced in Japan is called acupressure, wherein it slightly differs from the original Chinese practice with the use of shallow needles instead of fine needles. However, these theories and approaches of acupuncture are difficult to reconcile with the Western medicine and most of the times it is used in conjunction with other modalities.

Acupuncture is performed by using pre-sterilized disposable needles. Based on the location of treatment, the patient is made to sit or lie down. Fine needles with a width of around 0.2 mm are used in order to reduce trauma to the patients. When these fine needles are properly inserted, the patient may feel mild tingling sensation or warmth or sometimes nothing at all.

Apart from the needles an acupuncturist may use other techniques in order to stimulate these trigger points, some of them are:

  • Cupping—it is a suction designed to bring both the Qi energy and the blood to the acupuncture point
  • Laser—in order to stimulate the trigger points
  • Massage—applied specifically to acupuncture points
  • Moxibustion—in this method, certain herbs are burnt and is held over or applied over the trigger points
  • Chinese herbs—certain medicinal herbs are mixed by the acupuncturist themselves or in pre-prepared tablets or granular forms.2,3

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Uses of acupuncture

Acupuncture is practiced as an adjunt therapy along with the other conventional treatments, though it does not reconcile with Western medicine, scientific trials around the world have found that acupuncture is a safe and useful treatment for many different disorders.

Conditions associated with pain are most of the times effectively treated by this therapy, some of  these conditions include:

Other conditions wherein some amount of relief is obtained are:

Adverse Effects of Acupuncture  

The most common adverse events associated with acupuncture therapy are:

  • Infection
  • Trauma
  • Minor bleeding
  • Pain in the puncture regions
  • Transient hypotension [dizziness, discomfort and perspiration]
  • Burn injury [due to thermotherapy]
  • Aggravation of symptoms
  • Itching or redness [suspected due to contact dermatitis]

However, the risk of adverse events occurring due to this therapy is much lower than that compared to medical therapies. According to the evidence from 12 prospective studies, which surveyed more than a million treatments, the risk of a serious adverse event with acupuncture is estimated to be 0.05 per 10,000 treatments and 0.55 per 10,000 individual patients. The range of adverse events reported is wide and some events, specifically trauma and some episodes of infection are likely to be avoidable.2–5

Prevention of Adverse Events

The adverse events can be considerably reduced by certain general precautions taken by the acupuncturists and proper guidance given to the patients. These are as follows:

  • Usage of single use disposable needles, which will reduce the chances of infection.
  • Review of needle handling procedures from time to time in order to avoid needle-stick injuries to acupuncturists themselves.
  • Refreshing the knowledge of the locations of the organs like lungs, heart etc., in the human body in order to avoid improper penetration of the needles.
  • Practice of acupuncture in a clean and sterile procedure avoiding bad hygiene.
  • Proper information to the patients about the risk factors and reassurance given to them would always help in smooth practice.2,5


Acupuncture therapy is widely accepted by the patients as well as the physicians in today’s world though the exact line of treatment is not precisely explained. Whether the concept of yin and yang theory is completely believed or not, scientific trials around the world have found that acupuncture is a safe and useful treatment. There is a wide difference in Western medicine when compared to this traditional therapy, but still it is followed by most of the Western practitioners.

The patients feel relaxed after a session of acupuncture. The number of treatment required by the patient depends on the condition of the patient and in most of the cases within a few sessions patients experience a reduction in symptoms. The concept behind the treatment is to restore the natural balance of energy inside the body. Once the balance is restored back, the body can take care of itself and no further treatment is required.


1. Vickers A, Zollman C. ABC of complementary medicine. Acupuncture. BMJ. 1999; 319(7215): 973–976.

2. Pearl D, Schrollinger E. Acupuncture: its use in medicine. West J Med. 1999; 171(3): 176–180.

3. Linde K, Vickers A, Hondras M, ter Riet G, Thormaehlen J, Berman B., Melchart D. Systematic reviews of complementary therapies—an annotated bibliography. Part 1: Acupuncture. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2001; 1: 3.

4. Kaptchuk TJ. Acupuncture: Theory, efficacy, and practice. Ann Intern Med. 2002; 136(5): 374–383.

5. White A. A cumulative review of the range and incidence of significant adverse events associated with acupuncture. Acupunct Med. 2004; 22(3): 122–133.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: February 02, 2015