Acupuncture is an ancient technique used to restore circulation and balance the body through the activation of the body’s meridian system. It involves the insertion of very thin, sterile, single-use needles into the body to stimulate acupoints. In addition to being able to treat pain of the musculo-skeletal system, the Traditional Chinese Medicine style of acupuncture can also regulate Blood and Energy circulation of the internal organs. It can be used, therefore, not only to treat pain but also to treat imbalances in organ systems, strengthen the immune system, prevent illness, promote health and wellness, and balance emotions.
Biomedical theories of how acupuncture may work include a) increasing the release of the body’s own natural pain killers – the endorphins, b) moderating how the spinal nerves transmit pain signals, c) diffusing lactic acid and carbon monoxide that accumulates in muscles tissue, and d) influencing the neuro-muscular junction, both of voluntary and involuntary muscles. New theories are developing as research is completed, including emerging theories about the role of the fascia in acupuncture.
The history of acupuncture can be traced back at least to several hundred years before the Common Era (500-150 BCE), with the Chinese ancient texts “Huang Di Nei Jing” & “Ling Shu”. These oldest (that we know of) surviving books about Chinese Medicine provide a thorough explanation of Chinese Medicine theory, as well as some basic meridian principles that are still used today.
The original needles, according to the ancient texts, were made of stone, called bian stone. When compared with today’s stainless steel, laser-cut needles, these instruments were fairly primitive and crude, and were primarily used to treat abscesses, drain pus, and let blood out for therapeutic purposes. As the techniques of stone manufacturing became more advanced, the quality of the needles developed. With the improvement of quality, the medical use bian stones grew to include regulating the circulation of energy and blood, and the balancing of Yin & Yang, as part of their therapeutic use.
Generally considered to be a part of ancient Chinese history only, a recent unearthing in the Otzal Alps near the border of Italy and Austria raises some questions about this assumption. In 1991, a mummified frozen body was found in a glacier. Otzi, as he was later nicknamed, was determined to be about 5,300 years old. His body had been so well preserved that scientists were able to determine what his last two meals had been, based on the contents of his stomach and intestines. Two other things about this discovery are very interesting; first, he had approximately 57 carbon tattoos on his lower back, left knee, and right ankle. An X-ray of his joints suggests he may have had arthritis. These tattoos were simple dots and lines which we now know correspond to recognized acu-points. Was Otzi using acupuncture to help relieve his arthritis pain?
The second interesting thing about Otzi was that he was carrying two kinds of mushrooms with him, one of which is known to have antibacterial properties, and was likely used for medicinal purposes. This suggests that Otzi came from a population who were familiar with some basic forms of health care.
People’s Republic of China
The introduction of biomedicine to China in the early 1900′s almost brought about the end of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and how it was practiced. Western colonists into China defamed the practice, and even described acupuncture as “medical torture”. However, the need of medical care for the Chinese people was great, and Traditional Chinese Medicine got a chance to spread among the folk people despite the biomedical criticism. In 1944, Chairman Mao Zedong began to promote the Chinese form of medicine. In 1945, a Chinese Medicine clinic was opened in Yan’an in the name of Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune. This was the first time that acupuncture was associated with a comprehensive, “western” hospital.
World Health Organization and United Nations
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the propagation of Chinese Medicine to the rest of the world has accelerated. In 1975, the World Health Organization requested that international acupuncture training courses be set up in BeiJing, ShangHai, and NanJing. The world-wide interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine continues to grow, even today.
The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as a proven, effective treatment for more than 40 disorders, and as a benefit for hundreds of more conditions. In late 2010, The United Nations / UNESCO added Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion to their Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.