one of the oldest, most commonly used medical procedures
in the world. Originating in China more than 2,000 years
ago, acupuncture began to become better known in the United
States in 1971, when New York Times reporter James Reston
wrote about how doctors in China used needles to ease his
pain after surgery.
The term acupuncture describes a family of procedures involving
stimulation of anatomical points on the body by a variety
of techniques. American practices of acupuncture incorporate
medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries.
The acupuncture technique that has been most studied scientifically
involves penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic
needles that are manipulated by the hands or by electrical
is a technique of inserting and manipulating needles into
"acupuncture points" on the body. According to acupunctural
teachings this will restore health and well-being, and is
particularly good at treating pain.
The definition and characterization of these points is standardized
by the World Health Organization . Acupuncture is thought
to have originated in China and is most commonly associated
with Traditional Chinese medicine. Other types of acupuncture
(Japanese, Korean, and classical Chinese acupuncture) are
practiced and taught throughout the world.
Whether acupuncture is efficacious or a placebo is subject
to scientific research. Scientists have conducted reviews
of existing clinical trials according to the protocols of
evidence-based medicine; some have found efficacy for headache,
low back pain and nausea, but for most conditions have concluded
that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether
or not acupuncture is effective.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), the National Center
for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the
National Institute of Health (NIH), the American Medical
Association (AMA) and various government reports have also
studied and commented on the efficacy of acupuncture. There
is general agreement that acupuncture is safe when administered
by well-trained practitioners, and that further research
According to the NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture,
there have been many studies on acupuncture's potential
usefulness, but results have been mixed because of complexities
with study design and size, as well as difficulties with
choosing and using placebos or sham acupuncture. However,
promising results have emerged, showing efficacy of acupuncture,
for example, in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea
and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain.
There are other situations--such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation,
headache, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia,
myofascial pain, osteoarthritis, low-back pain, carpal tunnel
syndrome, and asthma--in which acupuncture may be useful
as an adjunct treatment or an acceptable alternative or
be included in a comprehensive management program. An NCCAM-funded
study recently showed that acupuncture provides pain relief,
improves function for people with osteoarthritis of the
knee, and serves as an effective complement to standard
care.7 Further research is likely to uncover additional
areas where acupuncture interventions will be useful.