What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of very fine, sterile needles into specific areas along the body’s meridians. Real Acupuncture addresses the underlying causes of disease, using a holistic and systems-oriented approach to understanding normal function of the body.

Acupuncture originates from China; recent research has shown that we can now confidently move the date of the history of Acupuncture from 200 years BC to at least 8,000 years BP with the discovery of bone needles at Kuahuqiao in Zhejiang Province. 1
According to Chinese philosophy, our physical health is reliant on the balanced flow of Qi, with blockages in the flow of Qi manifesting as different issues and symptoms. To diagnose the imbalance, practitioners look for patterns through pulse and tongue and by asking questions about the patient’s experiences and symptoms. Acupuncture is one part of Chinese medicine. With almost 8,000 years history, Chinese medicine, in best practise, addresses the healthcare needs of our society. By shifting the disease-oriented focus of medical practice to a more patient-oriented approach, Chinese medicine addresses the whole person and the environment, not just an isolated set of symptoms.

In 2003 the World Health Organization (WHO), the health branch of the United Nations published a report about clinical trials researching the effectiveness of acupuncture. More than one hundred conditions were classified into four categories concerning existing evidence. In 2017 the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese medicine Association (AACMA) commissioned a review to provide an up to date evidence based guide and found some evidence of effect in 117 out of 122 conditions.

Some of the researchers concluded that acupuncture was no better than placebo. But the fact is acupuncture is not a drug and it’s a patient-oriented approach. It’s impossible to blind the practitioner in real practice. According to Chinese medicine theory, each part of the body is connected by meridians, and there are many points that can be used for the same problem. Taking knee pain as an example, certain points on hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, abdomens and feet as well as the knees are all possible points of interjection for knee pain. Practitioners would choose different points depending on the patients’ situation. The causes of knee pain can be osteoarthritis, gout, menisci damage, Osgood-Schlatter’s disease, tendinitis, fractures, knee bursitis, iliotibial band syndrome, dislocated kneecap and sometimes it can be related to hip or foot. There are too many factors that can affect the knee and a randomized controlled trial (RCT) cannot fit them all. Most of the RCTs make the real acupuncture less effective by adding limitations to acupuncture treatment.

Some people may argue that why not just choose one cause of knee pain to do some RCTs. The reality is patients don’t have the knowledge to diagnose themselves. In the UK, GPs won’t be able to make accurate diagnosis within 10 minutes, then patients need to wait for a few weeks for an X-ray scan. But X-ray won’t show you any cartilage damage. Patients then will need to wait for an MRI scan and a specialist consultation. The time waiting is crucial for a RCT, and it will be extremely difficult to get a large number of patients for a trail. People don’t understand why acupuncture research in China have so much positive results. It’s possible that there are some dishonest researchers, but another important reason is patients will get their blood test result and MRI result at the same day when they go to a hospital.

People may ask what is an acupuncture meridian and why can’t we see it? Unfortunately, nobody can give the answer. The history of acupuncture is much longer than paper and a lot of information was lost in the midst of time. We can’t prove its existence by modern technology, but remember that we didn’t know bacteria existed until microscope was invented. Probably one day in the future we will find out the secret of meridians with a newer technology.

1. Liu. 2006 “Acupuncture originated in Kuahuqiao”. ZHEJIANG LAND & RESOURCES (4):59-60.DOI:10.3969/j.issn.1672-6960.2006.04.022.