Acupuncture is a technique in which a practitioner stimulates specific points on the body by inserting thin needles through the skin. It is one of the practices used in traditional Chinese medicine. There are a range of acupuncture variants originating in different philosophies and techniques that vary depending on the country in which it is performed. It is often used for pain relief, though it is also recommended for a wide range of other conditions. Acupuncture is also used in combination with other forms of treatment. Acupuncture is safe when done by appropriately trained practitioners using clean needle technique and single-use needles.
Acupuncture is believed to have originated around 100 BC in China, around the time The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huangdi Neijing) was published, though some experts suggest it could have been practiced earlier. Acupuncture spread first to Korea in the 6th century AD, then to Japan through medical missionaries, and then to Europe, beginning with France. In the 20th century, as it spread to the United States and Western countries, spiritual elements of acupuncture that conflict with Western beliefs were sometimes abandoned in favor of simply tapping needles into acupuncture points.
Studies suggest that acupuncture stimulates the release of the body’s natural painkillers and affects areas in the brain involved in processing pain; however, some trials suggest that real acupuncture and sham acupuncture are equally effective, indicating a placebo effect. Results from a number of studies, however, suggest real acupuncture may help ease types of pain that are often chronic, such as low-back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis/knee pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. It also may help reduce the frequency of tension headaches and prevent migraine headaches.