Acupuncture Overview

The History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the oldest medical treatments in existence, originating in China more than 2,500 years ago. Its philosophy is rooted in the traditional teachings of Taoism, which promotes harmony between humans and the world around them, and a balance between yin and yang.

Several pivotal texts throughout the centuries helped promote acupuncture's tenets. The earliest mention of acupuncture can be found in the "The Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine)" by Huang Di, which dates back to around 300 B.C. The book describes various diseases, their origins and descriptions of acupuncture points. In 260 A.D., the well-known physician Huang-Fu Mi compiled a 12-volume text describing acupuncture, called the "Zhen Jiu Jia Yi Jing (Comprehensive Manual of Acupuncture and Moxibustion)." His book describes many of the acupoints that are used today, with an explanation of where and how deeply to insert each needle.

The earliest acupuncturists used needles made from stone and bone. Later, needles were made from metal (bronze, gold, and silver). Originally, there were only 365 pressure points in the body, each of which corresponded to a different day of the year. Eventually, that number grew to more than 2,000 different points.

symbol for health with needles.
Photo courtesy of Dreamstime
Acupuncture is thought to have started in China.
By the early 19th century, travelers to China were introducing acupuncture to the West. Doctors in Europe and the United States began experimenting with the technique. One of acupuncture's biggest early proponents in the West was a French scholar named George Soulie de Morant. He traveled to China at the turn of the 20th century. When he returned to France after nearly two decades, he introduced French physicians to the classical acupuncture texts and techniques.

Acupuncture became popular in the United States in the 1970s, buoyed by President Nixon's trip to China. The first known mention of acupuncture in the American media was an article by "New York Times" reporter James Reston, in which he described how acupuncture relieved his pain after appendix surgery.

In the last three decades, acupuncture has caught on and has gained credibility in the United States. Today, there are established guidelines that govern its use, and organized societies of trained acupuncture professionals. According to the 2002 National Health Interview survey-the biggest survey of complementary and alternative medicine to date-an estimated 8.2 million American adults have tried acupuncture.

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