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  • Dr GC Macintosh

From Ancient Origins to Modern Medicine: The Evolution of Acupuncture

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese medicine that has been practiced for thousands of years. The origins of acupuncture are believed to date back to the Neolithic period, with the discovery of stone needles that were likely used for medical purposes.

Over time, the practice of acupuncture evolved and became more refined, with the development of theories about the flow of energy, or qi, through the body, and the identification of specific acupoints that could be stimulated to promote healing.

Beds ready for acupuncture treatment
Treatment room for acupuncture

During the Ming dynasty in China (1368-1644), the practice of acupuncture became more widely recognized and standardized, with the publication of numerous medical texts on the subject. Acupuncture also spread to other parts of the world, including Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, where it was adapted to local cultural practices and beliefs.

In modern times, acupuncture has become more widely accepted in Western medicine, with increasing numbers of healthcare providers integrating acupuncture into their practices or referring patients for acupuncture treatment.

Patient being treated with acupuncture
Acupuncture in face

Acupuncture is commonly used to treat a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, headaches, osteoarthritis, and nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. It may also be used to promote relaxation and reduce stress and anxiety.

In modern acupuncture practice, needles are typically made of stainless steel and are disposable to minimize the risk of infection. The acupoints used for treatment are typically selected based on the individual's symptoms and overall health, and the treatment may involve the insertion of needles, the application of heat or electrical stimulation to the needles, or the use of moxibustion, a technique in which an herb is burned near the skin to stimulate the acupoints.

While the scientific evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture is mixed, it is generally considered safe when performed by a licensed and trained practitioner. As with any complementary or alternative therapy, people should discuss the potential benefits and risks of acupuncture with their healthcare provider before beginning treatment.


  • World Health Organization. Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2002.

  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Acupuncture: In Depth.

  • Zhang Q, Yue J, Golianu B, Sun Z, Lu Y. Updated systematic review and meta-analysis of acupuncture for chronic knee pain. Acupunct Med. 2017;35(6):392-403. doi:10.1136/acupmed-2016-011208

  • Chen L, Zhang J, Li J, et al. Comparative effectiveness and safety of acupuncture for chronic pain: a network meta-analysis of 57 randomized controlled trials. Pain. 2020;161(3):602-611. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001755

  • MacPherson H, Vertosick EA, Foster NE, et al. The persistence of the effects of acupuncture after a course of treatment: a meta-analysis of patients with chronic pain. Pain. 2017;158(5):784-793. doi:10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000747

  • White A, Cummings M, Barlas P, et al. Defining an optimal acupuncture treatment for low back pain: a systematic review of randomised trials. BMJ Open. 2016;6(12):e012157. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012157

These sources provide further information on the origins and evolution of acupuncture, as well as its modern applications and safety considerations.

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