By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Acupuncture has been in practice for several thousand years in China. During the reign of Emperor Huang Ti, around a Century ago, it was formalized to be a part of the Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine included other therapies like massage and exercise like Tai Chi and Qigong along with acupuncture.
Traditional Chinese Medicine spread to Japan and Korea in the sixth Century and then spread to Europe via the Old Silk Road. France, Austria and Germany as well as countries far west received this knowledge as awareness rose.
More people found acupuncture to be a relatively effective and free of side effects and opted for this therapy for many wide ranging conditions.
Researching how acupuncture works
With advent of interest in the therapy there was a rise in the number of research activities that sought to find the exact methods and cause by which this tradition of medicine worked.
The World Health Organization (WHO) thereafter recognised acupuncture as an effective treatment modality. The WHO established an international nomenclature of acupoints and laid out detailed analysis of clinical evidence that found efficacy of this modality of treatment.
In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has accepted acupuncture as a valid treatment strategy since 1997. NIH now has also supported neuroimaging research into acupuncture mechanisms.
Acupuncture is being taught in many institutions in the United States and Canada. Integrated with standard medical care and is promoted as therapy that is complementary to traditional medicine rather than an alternative.
Comparing acupuncture to other therapies
After the 1980s several studies have been conducted comparing acupuncture in a variety of diseases with traditionally used effective medicines or with placebo or dummy treatment.
Modern acupuncture also involves inclusion of imaging and diagnostic technologies for use of the needles in a guided technique.
Heat based, photo based (laser therapy) and electro-acupuncture are also being used widely.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for example has been used to uncover how acupuncture works on the brain.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)