Acupuncture (from Lat. acus, 'a needle', and pungere, 'to prick') is the practice of inserting very thin needles in particular points on the body to improve health and well-being, and is one component of traditional Chinese medicine. It has long been used by the Chinese for a wide variety of health complaints, and is practised throughout Asia. The practice of acupuncture is at least 2000 years old. Forms of acupuncture are also described in the literature of the traditional medicine of India. In the west, it is considered a form of alternative medicine.
In China, acupuncture is known as zhen1 jiu3 (針灸). Zhen means needle, jiu means to cauterize by burning a herb called moxa. Historically, it was generally understood that to cauterize an acupuncture point was a stronger treatment than to needle the point. In modern times, the cauterization of acupoints (known as "moxibustion") has been largely supplanted by methods of indirect heating. Nowadays, acupuncture needling of points is performed with fine-gauge sterile disposable stainless steel needles.
Traditional Chinese medical theory holds that acupuncture works by redirecting qi "vital energy" in the body. Pain or illnesses are treated by attempting to remedy local or systemic accumulations or deficiencies of qi. Pain is considered to indicate blockage of the flow of qi, and an axiom of the medical literature of acupuncture is "no pain, no blockage; no blockage, no pain." While it is claimed by some that there is no physical evidence for the existence of qi or for its claimed effects, and that acupuncture is therefore a pseudoscience, many patients experience the sensations of stimulus known in Chinese as "deqi" ("obtaining the qi"} and this was historically considered to be evidence of effective treatment. Often deqi takes the form of a propagation of sensation along the trajectory of the so-called acupuncture "channels". Research into the phenomena of "deqi" has mostly been conducted in China and Japan.
Treatment of acupoints may be performed locally at the site of a particular problem, or at locations elsewhere on the body that are considered to be helpful based on either theoretical or empirical considerations.
Although accepted as a medical treatment in Asia for centuries, acupuncture's arrival in the United States has sparked controversy at times. However, in 1997, the NIH issued a consensus statement on acupuncture that concluded that "there is sufficient evidence of acupuncture's value to expand its use into conventional medicine and to encourage further studies of its physiology and clinical value." This acceptance is part of an overall trend towards the acceptance of complementary and alternative medicine in the West.
The NIH statement noted that "the data in support of acupuncture are as strong as those for many accepted Western medical therapies", and added that "the incidence of adverse effects is substantially lower than that of many drugs or other accepted medical procedures used for the same condition. As an example, musculoskeletal conditions, such as fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, and tennis elbow... are conditions for which acupuncture may be beneficial. These painful conditions are often treated with, among other things, anti-inflammatory medicationss (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) or with steroid injections. Both medical interventions have a potential for deleterious side effects but are still widely used and are considered acceptable treatments. The evidence supporting these therapies is no better than that for acupuncture."
The NIH consensus statement noted that "there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture is efficacious for adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and probably for the nausea of pregnancy... There is reasonable evidence of efficacy for postoperative dental pain... reasonable studies (although sometimes only single studies) showing relief of pain with acupuncture on diverse pain conditions such as menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, and fibromyalgia..." However, "acupuncture does not demonstrate efficacy for cessation of smoking and may not be efficacious for some other conditions."
Complementary to the traditional Chinese system of acupuncture described above,which has energy meridians traversing the whole body, another system of acupuncture called Su Jok has its acupoints and meridians restricted to only the hand and foot.