Acupuncture | History, Mechanism, Action

A Concise Explanation, History and Idea Behind Acupuncture and How it

Dr. Muhammad Mohsin Ali
Department of Medical Sciences, Faisal Institute of Health Sciences Affiliated with Government
College University, Faisalabad, Pakistan.


Acupuncture therapy was originated in China which is 4,000 years old healing
technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and an important therapy in East
Asian Medicine. As up to date numerous variations of acupuncture therapy have
been developed around the globe but TCM based acupuncture therapy is widely used
because of its own system for diagnosis and treatment. But still other methods exist.


It is a technique of insertion and manipulation of fine needles in specific points on
the body to achieve therapeutic purposes. It’s primarily used is to relieve pain but also
has been used to treat other conditions. According to Federal Health Commission
Pakistan, Head of Department of Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, Islamic International
Medical College, acupuncture mode of treatment could relieve patients from backache
sciatica, knee joint pain, osteoarthritis, neck pain, headache and other medical
complications, showed 75 to 95 percent success ratio.

History behind acupuncture

Acupuncture has been practiced widely in China for more than 4000 years and
is an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine. It was first described in the
medical writings “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine” [10] around
200 BC. As early as 5000 years ago, stones were sculpted and formed into crude
needles to be used as medical instruments. In time, other materials, including
bamboo, fish bones, bronze, gold, and silver, have been refined into acupuncture

Idea behind acupuncture

Acupuncture is based on the idea of Qi (pronounced chee), in Chinese
mythology Qi is the vital energy that every living being sustains in them.
According to TCM philosophy;

“Balanced Qi is vital to optimal health; illness and disease
are caused by the imbalance or interruption in the flow of Qi”.

That’s why this therapy was developed for the prevention of illness which is useful
in managing disease symptoms by reintroducing balanced flow of Qi. This therapy
is now covered by many insurance policies and is used most broadly to relieve pain.

How acupuncture work?

According to TCM and Chinese mythology acupuncture tends to seeks for
body’s vital energy to release or flow without any resistance by stimulating points along
different energy pathways. Scientists believe that needles cause the body to release
endorphins (natural painkillers) which may boost the blood flow and change brain
activity. Some scientist believes that this therapy work due to placebo effect i.e.; it
works only because people believe it will.
Anatomically, acupuncture points represent electrical conduction. Skin’s outer
epidermis correspond to areas with higher histological differences compared to
adjacent tissues. There are many theories that explain how it works.

Pain gate control theory

This theory postulates that; “specific nerve fibers transmit a pain signal to
brain via the spinal cord and input of other nerve fibers can inhibit the pain signal
transmission”. Thus, in acupuncture we stimulate inhibitory nerve fibers for a short
period and reducing transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Action mechanism

Around 19th century, scientific researches were beginning to clarify the action
mechanism. A study anticipated that participation of chemical
substances for analgesic actions of acupuncture required 15 to 20 minutes for the
development of an analgesic effect.
In the role of acupuncture’s action endogenous opioid peptides (EOPs) were
majorly considered opioid. As electro acupuncture analgesia (EAA) is antagonized
by the opioid receptor antagonist naloxone. Frequency dependent different EOPs are
involved in electro acupuncture induced analgesia (EAIA). In the supraspinal CNS,
EAA of low frequency i.e. 2 Hz is induced by the activation of the opioid ‘mu’ and
‘delta’ receptors through the release of enkephalin, beta-endorphin and
endomorphin. High frequency i.e. 100 Hz of EAA includes the effect of dynorphin
on opioid kappa receptors in the spinal cord.


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