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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
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.