The History of Acupuncture

The History of Acupuncture
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It is unclear when acupuncture was discovered. Archeological findings point at various elements and factors as possible acupuncture origins. Nobody appears to argue, though, that the most complete and comprehensive healing method that involves stimulation of points located on or below the skin was developed in China. While the majority of experts agree that the history of acupuncture in China dates back to more than 2,000 years, a handful of researchers argue that the Chinese acupuncture history is only a few hundred years old and that the stone and bronze needles that could have been used in ancient Chinese acupuncture, in reality, had other purposes. No matter who is right, however, an increasing number of research studies show that acupuncture is effective in the treatment of various conditions and that its effectiveness can be even greater when it is used alongside other treatment methods.

How Old Is Acupuncture?

It is difficult to say, with any reliable degree of certainty, how old acupuncture is, or, rather, for how long people used needles to treat various health conditions. Even the acupuncture origin remains unclear. Ancient Greeks, for example, described a surgery for the treatment of obesity that took place more than 2,000 years ago, and that surgery involved needles (Bevegni & Adami, 2003). Copper and silver needles were used in ancient Egypt for medical and surgical purposes thousands of years ago (Saber, 2010). The strangest of all, however, is that when the oldest natural mummy was found in 1991 in the mountains between Italy and Austria, its skin had marks—possibly, tattoos—whose purposes, scientists agree, were not ornamental. The mummy was a man who had lived in the area where he was found approximately 5,300 years ago. Computer tomography showed that he had arthrosis of the lumbar spine, which means that he most likely suffered from lower back pain. As surprising as it may sound, most of the locations of the tattoos on his body coincided with the acupuncture points that are known today for relieving lower back pain (Dorfer et al, 1998).

How Old Is Acupuncture

Who Invented Acupuncture?

Acupuncture as a comprehensive medical treatment method appeared in the text The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, which was written a little more than 2,000 years ago (White & Ernst, 2004). At the same time, this text talks about acupuncture as a well-known medical system, and it appears that the Yellow Emperor (or whoever the real author of this work was) collected and systematized techniques that involved needles from earlier sources and acupuncture practitioners of the time. On the other hand, there is an opinion, maintained by historians Donald Harper and Paul Unschuld, that traditional Chinese medicine originally included cauterization (moxibustion), herbal medicine, therapeutic exercises, and even bloodletting—but not acupuncture. The multitude of stone and bronze needles, they argue, may have been used for sewing or as hairpins, rather than acupuncture. The many references in ancient texts, due to the differences in the modern and ancient Chinese languages, can be interpreted in more than one way; for example, “. . . cut open the vessels at the elbow and knee with a lancing-stone to release the vapor,” which may not necessarily mean acupuncture. Those who follow this opinion believe that acupuncture evolved from cauterization (moxibustion) (Cochran, 2002). It is highly likely that none of the individuals who believe that this argument is true practice acupuncture, because the thought process that studying traditional Chinese medicine develops is different for acupuncture and moxibustion. While in theory acupuncture may have been evolved from bloodletting, the concepts of qi and blood would have demanded a gentler treatment of certain points as well as conditions (as in qi stagnation versus blood stasis), forcing acupuncture practitioners to puncture points delicately in many cases.

Who Invented Acupuncture

Who Is the Father of Acupuncture?

According to Chinese tradition, acupuncture has three fathers. The first was Fu Xi, also known as Bao Xi, who was famous for being an innovator, one of which was nine kinds of acupuncture needles. While there is no information on those nine kinds of needles, there is plenty of archeological evidence in the form of stone needles (Bian Shi), which have been excavated from New Stone Age remains from various areas of China. According to ancient Chinese records, these stone needles were used to treat illnesses. The second father of acupuncture is believed to be Shen Nong, who is also thought of as the father of Chinese herbal medicines. Finally, the third father was Hunag Di, the Yellow Emperor, who was also known for making the nine kinds of needles, whatever they might have been (Ma, 2000).

The nine ancient acupuncture needles

Who Brought Acupuncture to America?

Acupuncture was brought from Asia to Europe in the 17th century, where a handful of physicians practiced it. Since there has always been a connection between the United States and Europe, a small number of Americans were aware of the method. The interest in acupuncture in the United States became somewhat greater in the 19th century when medical journals in France and Britain began publishing experiments with acupuncture, but how many American physicians tried using acupuncture is unknown (Cassedy, 1974). Acupuncture suddenly became widely known in the United States when The New York Times published an article about it and even more so a little later when the National Institutes of Health’s consensus conference reported that “there was positive evidence for its effectiveness, at least in a limited range of conditions” (White & Ernst, 2004). From that point on, the popularity of acupuncture has been growing.

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