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Acupuncture is a branch of Chinese medicine that treats patients by the insertion and manipulation of needles in the body, a healthcare system that has been practised for thousands of years in China and the Far East. It has been developed, tested, researched and refined over centuries to give us a complex and detailed understanding of the body’s energetic balance.

The earliest written record of the use of acupuncture is found in ‘The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon’ (the Huangdi Neijing) written in approximately 200 BCE. This text is the root of all styles of acupuncture used all over the world.

Ancient Chinese practitioners discovered many aspects of biomedical science, without the help of modern scientific equipment. Traditional acupuncturists are as scientific and sophisticated as western clinicians in their understanding of how the body functions, despite the current use by many of terminology from Chinese historic and cultural beginnings.

Acupuncture needlesA variety of explanations exist to explain the discovery of acupuncture though there is no absolute certainty. One such explanation is that soldiers with battle wounds caused by arrows believed they were cured of chronic, existing conditions that had otherwise left untreated. There are a number of variations on this idea. Sharpened stones found in China suggest the practice may date back to the Stone Age and hieroglyphs and pictographs dating from 1600 – 1100 BCE also suggest the use of acupuncture. In Europe the 5,000-year-old mummified body of ‘Ötzi the Iceman’ has 15 groups of tattoos on his body, some of which are located on known acupuncture points.

Acupuncture spread from China to other countries at different times along with the opening of commercial routes. In the 6th century Korea and Japan integrated Chinese acupuncture and herbs into their medicine. With the opening of trade routes in the eighth and tenth centuries acupuncture arrived in Vietnam.

In the West, France adopted acupuncture somewhat sooner than surrounding countries when Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth century brought back reports of the practice.

However, interest in acupuncture in China went into decline from the seventeenth century as it became regarded as superstitious and irrational, though the knowledge base and skills were kept. As China accepted Western medicine at the start of the twentieth century acupuncture was finally outlawed in 1929 along with other forms of traditional medicine. Later, with the Communist government of 1949, the traditional forms were reinstated, possibly for nationalistic reasons and as a practical means of providing basic levels of health to the massive population.

Acupuncture needleAcupuncture research institutes were established during the 1950s but it wasn’t until the 1970s that its popularity swelled in the West and teams of doctors from the US toured China to assess its efficacy. In North America acupuncture is now a commonly used form of pain management therapy in many hospitals and some 6% of the American population has used acupuncture to treat a variety of symptoms.

In 1995 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified acupuncture needles as medical instruments with legislation to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Acupuncture is now included in many insurance plans, finally a sure sign of acceptance into the mainstream and bears testimony to its success.


1600 – 1100 BCE Hieroglyphs and pictographs suggest the use of acupuncture.
200 BCE Huang Di Nei Jing first written record of acupuncture.
1680 CE First medical description of acupuncture by a European physician.
1822 CE In China, education in acupuncture abolished from medical colleges but still practised rurally.
1929 Acupuncture outlawed along with other forms of traditional medicine.
1949 Chinese medical practices reactivated under The People’s Republic of China.
1950s Acupuncture research institutes established.
1972 Nixon establishes relations with the People’s Republic of China and US physicians made fact-finding tours of China to assess acupuncture.
1995 (FDA) classified acupuncture needles as medical instruments with legislation to ensure their safety and effectiveness

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