Acupuncture is a form of therapy originating from China. Grave findings from about 6000 years ago show that people were already using stone splinters to puncture painful body areas. The stone needles were made from Bian stone and were used for various purposes depending on their shape. Later, bones, fish devices, and bamboo splinters were also used. 

In one of the most important foundational works of Chinese medicine, the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon (ca. 300 BC), about 160 acupuncture points and indications for their use were described. The Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing (ABC Classic of Acupuncture and Moxibustion) was written by Huangfu Mi during the Wei and Jin dynasties (265-420 AD). He described the name, location, and indication of 349 points. This makes Chinese medicine one of the oldest medical systems in the world.

The Chinese word for acupuncture is 针灸 Zhēnjiǔ. This word consists of two characters, 针 meaning needles and 灸 meaning moxibustion (a heat treatment using mugwort). The name itself suggests that acupuncture involves not only the use of needles for stimulation of acupuncture points. Acupuncture and moxibustion are two disciplines of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) used for the prevention and treatment of diseases. It is a targeted therapeutic influence on body functions through specific points on the body surface known as acupuncture points.

The ancient Chinese doctors who developed acupuncture saw the body as a system of vital energies. They called this fundamental life energy Qi, on which all life manifestations depend. They discovered that there were three main types of Qi in the human body. The Qi that interacts with the outside world is called Wei Qi (defensive Qi). It has the consistency of steam. The Qi that flows inside the body is called Ying Qi (nutritive Qi). It appears in the form of blood and fluids. The third type of Qi in the body is Jing Qi (constitutional Qi) or our Western idea of DNA. It manifests in the form of bone marrow, the brain, and stem cells. It is the heaviest of all energetic forms in the body.

Qi has six main functions: it protects, controls, nourishes, warms, transports, and transforms. Qi, together with Essence (Jing), Blood (Xue), and Body Fluids (Jinye), constitutes the material and functional basis of the body. Qi flows along the 12 paired and 2 unpaired main channels, called meridians. Each of the 12 meridians is assigned to an organ system, with the designations such as Liver or Spleen not related to Western organ doctrine. They are referred to as functional circuits. It should be emphasized that Chinese medicine is a coherent, complete, closed medical system, including its specific human physiology, psychosomatics, pathology, disease terminology, methods of diagnosis, and therapeutic methods.

By inserting needles into over 365 points, Qi circulation is balanced and specific organ systems are stimulated or moderated. For classical acupuncture, a diagnosis based on Traditional Chinese Medicine is indispensable. In treatment, the corresponding points, which are mostly located along the meridians, are activated by gentle stimulation with acupuncture needles. The points are related to individual organs and organ functions. Through the stimulation, the organs associated with the acupuncture points are encouraged to self-heal by regulating Qi. Therefore, it is not the diseased organ that is directly treated, but the meridian or acupuncture point that is associated with the organ.

Which conditions can be treated with acupuncture?

More and more studies suggest that acupuncture can help with common complaints. It works just as well or even better than conventional therapies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been recognizing classical acupuncture as an effective treatment for many years.

Types of acupuncture

There are various types of acupuncture, some of which are based on acupuncture points, such as electro-acupuncture, laser acupuncture, or Jin’s three-needle technique. Other forms have their own microsystem, such as ear acupuncture, Bo’s abdominal acupuncture method, Tan’s balance method, Master Tung acupuncture, the 9 palaces acupuncture, or the various skull acupuncture systems.

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