The Medical Game-changer

History of Acupuncture - by Dr. Dongfeng Zhou, AP, DAOM

Imagine for a second that you are ill but all you need to do is make an appointment with an expert who passes sterile needles through certain parts of your body. Before long, you are healed and boisterous again. In summary, that is what acupuncture entails.

In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of ailments that can be treated with acupuncture. These diseases include hypertension, dysentery, dental pains, inducing labor, etc. The WHO also noted that there are other conditions the remedy can help improve but researchers need to show more evidence that the therapy is effective. Those ailments, the organization stated, include spine pain, stiff neck, vascular dementia, fibromyalgia, etc. At this juncture, you need to grasp what the therapeutic remedy is all about.

What is Acupuncture?

It is an ancient complementary alternative medicine (CAM) or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice that involves the insertion of sterile, disposable needles into the human skin along certain lines of energy (qi) for the treatment of medical and physical conditions. The essence of applying the remedy is to balance the flow of energy throughout the body. Once performed, this therapy results in healing. A specialist in this practice is known as an acupuncturist.
Its philosophy or theory is based on the theory of the yin and the yang. To be clear, the yin is the female principle, which is passive and often represented by the earth. On the other hand, the yang is the male principle, which is active and light. Well, the heavens often represent the yang. The practitioners hold that the forces of yin and yang always act in the human body and the entire universe. When someone becomes ill, it creates an imbalance between the forces – something that age-long treatment tries to correct.
Practitioners believe that there are about 2,000 acupuncture points (acupoints) in the body and they are connected by the energy-filled pathways or meridians. With an uninterrupted energy flow through the body, the human body is sure of overall wellbeing. Much as the practice of TCM is not based on scientific knowledge, its practitioners have been able to perform and provide sufficient clinical studies to prove its efficacy.

How Did Acupuncture Begin?

Looking at the history of acupuncture, researchers firmly believe that it originated from ancient China. Well, the reason is that China was the first country to discuss the old but potent therapy in historical documents dating back to several centuries ago that led up to the Common Era. While many experts have reason to believe that the practice has been going on for 3000 years, sharpened stones and bones that dated back to 6000 BCE were interpreted to be the first set of instruments for carrying out the traditional treatment. Documents discovered in Ma-Wang-Dui (also Mawangdui) tomb indicate that the ancient Chinese knew about meridians but didn’t specifically mention acupuncture. Ma-Wang-Dui tomb is a popular archaeological site located in today’s Changsha in China.
If you are unaware, Mawangdui was the name given to an early Western Han dynasty site (206 BC – 220 AD). The documents were believed to have been sealed in 198 BCE. More so, the Han Dynasty is reputed as the dynasty under which the healing technique was developed. However, the first document that fully described the healing technique as a system of diagnosis and treatment dated back to 100 BCE. Titled Huang Di Nei Jing (or the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine), the document presented information in the form of questions by the Emperor and his learned minister’s responses. The Ming Dynasty (138–1644) would see the publication of the masterpiece, The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. This document contains the modern application of the therapeutic remedy, identifying about 365 acupoints. The bronze figure below shows the exact positions of those acupoints.

Father of Acupuncture

There are various accounts of the father of acupuncture. However, the ancient Chinese tradition maintains that there were three in all. The first famous innovator was Fu Xi (also known as Bao Xi). He invented about 9 acupuncture needles. Despite that, there is not enough information on those needles. The second name was Shen Nong. Chinese historians consider Nong the father of Chinese herbal medicine. Last but not least was Hunag Di. Popularly called the Yellow Emperor, Huang Di was reputed for making 9 different kinds of acupuncture needles. All these people played significantly roles in furthering the ancient healing practice.

History of Acupuncture in the United States

Although acupuncture is widely known as an ancient Chinese healing therapy, it has spread around the world, including the United States. In the 17th Century, the practice made its way into Europe, where people applied it for treating various ailments. Given the strong ties between Europe and America, a small number of Americans got to learn about the remedy. While it is uneasy to trace the first person who introduced the treatment in the US, most medical historians give the credit to the journalist and medical researcher, Benjamin Franklin Bache.

Benjamin Franklin Bache

By the 19th Century, more and more American researchers began to show interests in the ancient healing technique. The practice further gained traction after the New York Times journalist, John Reston, accompanied US President Richard Nixon to China in 1971. During the visit, Reston fell sick and Chinese doctors performed acupuncture on him, which facilitated his recovery. On July 26th 1971, the journalist wrote about his experience in the New York Times, snowballing its curiosity among the New York Times readers. What particularly piqued US readers’ curiosity was that the publication stated that there was evidence that it was potent. And of course, Reston was a living testimony. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognized and classified its needles as medical instruments in 1995. In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) further acknowledged the applications of acupuncture, stating that it is an effective therapy for treating health conditions. Today, the US has over 40 accredited acupuncture schools, helping students comprehend all there is to know about the Medieval healing method. All this goes to show that acupuncture is positively changing the medical landscape.


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