Acupuncture is a part of traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It has been practiced for over 2,500 years (VanderPloeg & Yi, 2009). According to Freeman (2009) the earliest text on the practice of acupuncture dates back to 282 AD. The practice of acupuncture has waxed and waned in popularity. In the sixteenth century it reached its height and then declined in popularity in the 19th century with the introduction of Western Medicine in China. In the late 20th century, interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) sparked a resurgence of interest in acupuncture.
There are multiple theories regarding the mechanism by which acupuncture works. According to TCM practice illness occurs when the qi, life force is blocked. Acupuncturists restore the balance of health by applying needles to stimulate the flow of qi along the meridian points (Freeman, 2009). Solid needles ranging from half an inch to four inches in length made from various materials including gold, silver, copper, stainless steel, or a combination of these are inserted into the skin to deep tissue (VanderPloeg & Yi). The needles are left in place for approximately 20 minutes and can be stimulated by hand (twisting or twirling) or electrical current. The insertion and manipulation can cause a sensation of numbness, heaviness, and radiating pain (known as “de qi”). Western medical practices believe that acupuncture may influence the release of endogenous opioids to promote pain relief (Freeman; VanderPloeg & Yi). Park et al (2008) conducted a systematic review of the clinical research applications of acupuncture and found a substantial amount of research that indicates that acupuncture is effective at treating a myriad of medical conditions. Clinical studies utilizing randomized controlled trials (RCT) have found it to be effective in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome, dysmenorrhea, several pregnancy-related conditions, nausea, pain, asthma, and opiate withdrawal. Its efficacy in the treatment of other women’s health and mental health conditions is promising given the limited amount of evidence. Yet, conducting RCT remains problems. Studies that utilize no treatment as a comparison group indicate promising results. Studies that design a “placebo” intervention known as “sham” acupuncture also run into difficulties making the detection of statistically significant finding increasingly difficult to determine (Linde, Niemann, Schneider, & Meissner, 2010). Given the demand for CAM and evidence-based medicine, it is important for researchers to continue to explore the efficacy of acupuncture.
Freeman, L.W. (2009) Mosby's complementary & alternative medicine: A research-based approach (3rd ed.). Mosby Elsevier Press.
Linde, K., Niemann, K., Schneider, A., & Meissner, K. (2010). How large are the nonspecific effects of acupuncture? A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Medicine, 875-88. doi:10.1186/1741-7015-8-75
Park, J., Linde, K., Manheimer, E., Molsberger, A., Sherman, K., Smith, C., & ... Schnyer, R. (2008). The Status and Future of Acupuncture Clinical Research. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 14(7), 871-881. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.SAR-4
VanderPloeg, K., & Yi, X. (2009) Acupuncture in Modern Society, Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 2(1), 26-33. doi:10.1016/S2005-2901(09)60012-1