What Is Acupuncture?

The term “acupuncture” refers to a family of procedures in which specific points on the body, known as acupoints, are stimulated using a variety of techniques. The one most often studied involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metal needles that are manipulated by hand and/or electrical stimulation. These needles are very small, having about the thickness of a human hair or a cat’s whisker, and cause very little trauma to the tissue in which they are inserted. If done correctly, acupuncture would give the patient a localized sensation of numbness, distension, soreness, and electrical tingling (if electrical stimulation is applied), while the acupuncturist should experience “needle grasp,” a tugging feeling.

Practiced in China and other Asian countries for several thousand years, acupuncture is among the few ancient medical therapies to survive the process of selection and elimination. It was first introduced to the West in the sixteenth Century by the Portuguese. Acupuncture had a significant exposure in the US in the early 1970s, when theĀ New York Times published a report on a personal experience with the procedure from one of its own reporters. The ancient modality has been gaining popularity in the country since then. Today millions of Americans seek acupuncture treatment each year and it has been embraced by well-established institutions such as the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.

Despite its growing popularity, acupuncture is still considered a complementary or alternative medicine in much of the United States. Active research is ongoing to study the basis and therapeutic effectiveness of the procedure. There was an interesting paper published in The Seattle Times on the subject.