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The History & Origins of Acupuncture

Acupuncture is both a science and an art, one that has been around for thousands of years. It is an ancient form of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, that pre-dates written history. Acupuncture is rooted in a Taoist philosophy that is more than 6000 years old.

The Practice of Acupuncture

The early history of China is divided into two eras: The Old Stone Age, more than 10,000 years ago, and the New Stone Age, 10,000 – 4,000 years ago.

The development of acupuncture as we know it began between the years 3045-204BC. It was referenced in a medical manual: Nei-Jing - The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine.

The first part of this manual describes anatomy and physiology, various syndromes and treatments, the principles of yin and yang, the five elements, and man’s relationship with nature.

The second part of the manual is all about - you guessed it - acupuncture! It included descriptions of the meridians, i.e. the pathways of vital energy in the body, as well as the functions of each organ, the functions of acupuncture points, types of chi, needles, and more.

Between AD 260 and 265, the physician Huang Fu Mi organized much of the ancient Chinese medical texts into one comprehensive manual: The Systematic Classics of Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Acupuncture texts have continued to be updated and revised over the years.

In 1950 to be precise, Chairman Mao moved for a combination of TCM and Western medicine. At that time, acupuncture began being offered in hospitals across China.

The scientific community dove further into the subject of acupuncture in the 1950s and 1960s, researching ancient texts about acupuncture, as well as acupuncture anesthesia and the effects of acupuncture on internal organs.

With regards to the history of acupuncture in the United States, it was first introduced in the US during the 1800s. Dr. Franklin Baché, an accomplished surgeon and the great-grandson of Benjamin Franklin, is “credited as being the first American medical physician to practice and document his clinical experiences with acupuncture.” (Source:

Acupuncture did not gain mainstream popularity in the United States until the 1970s.

To the present day, acupuncture plays a crucial role in the medical system of China, and is widely practiced throughout the world, including the United States.

“More than 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered annually in the United States alone. Its rise in popularity, particularly in the West, can be attributed in part to its effectiveness for pain relief and in part to the fact that scientific studies have begun to prove its efficacy.” (Source: Global Advances in Health and Medicine, 2014 Jul; 3(4): 6–8)

The Basics of Chinese Medicine

The wisdom of TCM is rooted in the relationship between the mind, body, and spirit. It is a “holistic” approach in that it promotes healing on multiple levels, recognizing that the experiences of our mind, body, and spirit are inter-connected. In this view, our emotional, mental, and physical well-being are impacted by many factors, including our nutrition, environment, relationships, lifestyle choices, work, and so on.

TCM uses the concepts of the yin and yang, chi, the five elements, and the organ system to understand the body and health.

Yin and Yang

In Chinese philosophy, the body - and the universe at large - are described by opposing and separate yet complementary principles: the yin and the yang.

Yin represents the cold, the slow, the passive, the feminine, the light, and the inward and downward direction.

In contrast, the yang represents the hot, the fast, the active, the masculine, the dark, the outward and upward direction.

The two forces of yin and yang are in constant interaction and opposition, and are always influencing each other. Therefore, acupuncture and TCM seek to increase or decrease yin or yang to address symptoms and issues caused by their imbalance.


Another cornerstone of TCM is the concept of chi. Chi is our life force, or spiritual energy, generated by our internal organs as well as received from air, sunlight, food, and water.

It is believed that chi exists in all living things. In addition to being the life force of the body, it is also recognized as the life force of the universe.

The body has natural patterns through which chi flows, called the meridians. In TCM, illnesses are seen as the by-product of blockages or imbalances of chi in the meridians or organs. Acupuncture relieves these imbalances by adjusting the flow of chi in the body.

Why Acupuncture: The Scientific Perspective

Western scientists and medical practitioners have traditionally been suspicious about the nature of acupuncture.

However, as the scientific community has researched the use of acupuncture for a range of health conditions and issues, the results have made many a believer out of previous skeptics.

More than 10,000 scientific studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of acupuncture. Thanks to the results of many of these studies, acupuncture has earned its place as a highly respected, yet intriguing healing modality.

Interesting scientific facts about acupuncture:

*There are measurable changes in the body when acupuncture is performed.

*Acupuncture points on the body have generally been found to have a higher electrical resistance than the surrounding tissue.

*Research studies using radioactive tracers have shown that acupuncture channels or meridians are in fact distinct and separate from blood vessels and lymph vessels.

*Acupuncture makes the brain release neuropeptides that are beneficial in relieving pain. Several studies have show that acupuncture stimulates the flow of natural endorphins in the brain, thus decreasing pain.

In particular, acupuncture has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of pain, headaches and migraines, mood, stress, insomnia, mental clarity, and digestion.

Though research is still ongoing, users also report improvements in many other areas, including:

  • Adrenal Disorders

  • Cold, Flu & Allergy Symptoms

  • Immune System Function

  • Weight Management

  • Orthopedic Issues

  • Smoking Cessation

  • Gynecological & Women’s Issues

  • and more!


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