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Along with herbal medicine, acupuncture is one of the oldest therapies
extant. It’s origins are shrouded in antiquity, but The Yellow Emperor’s
Classic Of Internal Medicine (1)(Huang Ti Nei Jing), a Chinese medical
classic written during the Zhou Dynasty (1000-400 B.C.) describes a sophisticated
model for the use of acupuncture in the treatment of many diseases. Much
later, the Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion (2) was written
during the Ming Dynasty and serves as the basis for most modern acupuncture.
In more recent times the interest in acupuncture has blossomed throughout
the world but especially in the West.
Much research has been done since the introduction of the concept of acupuncture anesthesia. The World Health Organization and the National Institute of Health have position statements on acupuncture (3), emphasizing the general safety and efficacy of acupuncture for a wide variety of conditions, including but not limited to neurological and musculoskeletal pain conditions. Here are a few of the documented effects of acupuncture.
Relieves pain: It is a common experience among acupuncturists and patients that acupuncture therapy relieves pain. It may act to reduce muscle spasm, alleviate nerve pain, reduce or eliminate the need for analgesics, and decrease post-procedure or post-surgical pain and complications (4-6).
Promotes healing: A number of studies have demonstrated an improvement in wound healing with acupuncture and electroacupuncture stimulation (7;8). This includes post-surgical wounds, ulcers, burns, sprains and strains, fractures, etc. This is thought to be due to improving the blood supply to the affected tissue, improving trophic effects, enhancing neuroendocrine function and thereby accelerating the repair process (7;9)
Neuroendocrine regulation: Along with the discovery of the opioid receptor and the presence of endogenous opioids, it has been shown that acupuncture enhances this system of internal pain relief (10). In addition, a related effect called descending inhibition of pain has been demonstrated with acupuncture (11). Acupuncture has also been shown to optimize the hypothalamic-pituitary axis to the extent of inducing ovulation in anovulatory women (12). Inflammatory conditions, mediated in part by interleukins, have also been shown to respond to acupuncture (13).
Overall, acupuncture has been and continues to be an important adjunctive treatment for pain, can promote a general healing response, and may be responsible for specific regulation of the neuroendocrine systems.