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Acupuncture is one of many types of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is defined as any treatment that does not fall within the realms of conventional medicine. Acupuncture involves inserting needles into specific points around the body in order to relieve pain or for a wide range of therapeutic benefits.


Acupuncture can be traced back in Chinese History to as long ago as 3000BC where stone acupuncture needles were used. Acupuncture was mentioned in Chinese medical texts from about 300BC although there are many later texts which have no mention of it at all. Acupuncture then spread from China to Japan, Korea, and many other parts of Asia. It first became well known in the west in the 1970s after an article in the New York Times described its use on one occasion as a reliever for post-operative pain. Following on from this many acupuncture specific clinics were opened in the West.

Theories behind acupuncture

There are two main schools of thought on the basis of acupuncture; the first is from its origins in Traditional Chinese Medicine while the second is a more modern approach based on the science behind the neurological system.


Traditional Chinese Medicine

A large part of Chinese Medicine is the basis of our energy or Qi which is believed to be a balance of ying and yang. Acupuncture is thought to control and alter the balance of Qi and Blood. Pain and disease is thought to be a loss of balance between yin, yang, Qi and Blood and so acupuncture seeks to bring them back into balance. The foundation of treatment is based on acupuncture points which are mainly found on lines known as meridians. These are pathways along which Qi and Blood flow and they form two systems of internal and external pathways. The acupuncture points lie on the external pathway and these are fairly superficial. However, this traditional theory has come under much criticism for its lack of relevance to physiological and biological function although there are some scientists who feel the two can be reconciled.

Scientific Theories

There are many scientific theories which use the modern understanding of the neurological system to explain the physiological success of acupuncture in the treatment of pain.

The gate control theory of pain was developed in the 60s and its basis is that pain is not only a direct consequence of activating sensory pain fibers but can also be modulated by excitatory and inhibitory by sensory inputs. Acupuncture needles can act as sensory inputs that therefore have the potential to alter the perception of pain.

Pain is also modulated higher up in the CNS (central nervous system) in areas such as the Periaqueductal grey and thalamus. These areas are involved in the release of neurohormones that can affect the function of nerves. An important group of these are the endorphins which bind to opioid receptors. Studies using PET and MRI have shown that the acupuncture can activate these areas in the brain and therefore regulate pain. Recently the U-M Chronic Pain and

Fatigue Research Center have used imaging techniques to show that acupuncture actually increases the availability of these receptors and this leads to a reduction in pain.

The placebo effect is a scientific phenomenon that involves the patient’s belief in the ability of therapy being enough to have a therapeutic effect even when the therapy itself is shown to be completely ineffective. This can have very strong effects and a large proportion of scientists believe this is the basis of acupuncture.


In the last few months the NHS has changed its policy towards acupuncture and stated that patients with persistent lower back pain should be offered acupuncture on the NHS after advice from the governing body of NICE. They claim that evidence has shown that it is not only successful in the treatment of many chronic pains but also a lot more cost effective than many of the pain killer drugs which are often only marginally effective.

Latest research

Most scientists now agree that acupuncture is effective, even if just by the placebo effect, for back and head pain. However, the claims of acupuncture stretch as far as to increase fertility in women, and here the field is divided. Most scientists say that any studies that confirm claims such as this are not well researched enough or that the data is actually inconclusive.

TJC Global

In areas of advancing medical research such as this, global communication is an inevitable part of the development of new drugs. At TJC Global, our experienced linguists can offer translation services for documents, research, histories and records and interpreting for conferences, clinical meetings, consultations, symposiums and other settings to ensure that language is not a barrier.


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