Acupuncture is considered one of the most important forms of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) therapy and looks back on a millenary tradition. Also in Western countries, this alternative healing method is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the treatment of mild to moderate chronic pain.
What is acupuncture?
The acupuncturist - a physician with appropriate training or alternative practitioner - treats the patient with special thin needles that are inserted into the skin. Often, this puncture site is far from the diseased organ - the operation is explained by the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The stimulus triggered by the correct placement of the needle is supposed to exert its healing or soothing influence via energy flows in the body and to restore the disturbed overall equilibrium.
The main field of application of acupuncture is the treatment of pain of various origins, in particular migraine, back and nerve pain, rheumatic complaints and menstrual headaches. Also treated are allergies such as hay fever, but the field of medical indications is far greater.
History of acupuncture
The beginnings of acupuncture are hard to date. First mentioned in the literature, it was in 90 BC. Before that, there were already wooden figures with paths (eg as burial finds from the early Han dynasty) - it is believed, however, that the puncture openings, so the acupuncture points, came later. Besides, there are some stories that are probably not true, but interesting. The legend says that thousands of years ago a Chinese soldier was hit by an arrow and only wounded. But the hit should not only have been to his detriment: While the wound healed, should have regressed in response to the hit the disease of another organ. This is calculated as the (mythological) beginning of acupuncture therapy.
Another explanation about the beginnings of acupuncture involves the assumption that early humans discovered that an injury or pain was occasionally caused by the laying on of hands (other healing methods did not exist at first), relieving massages or squeezing certain parts of the body. Since this did not help in all cases, attempts were made to refine this principle with stones or bone splinters. The experience gave rise to a system according to which certain symptoms were assigned points, which then provided for a relief of the problem.
But the Asians are probably not the only ones who long ago discovered the beneficial effects of the treatment: Even in other cultures, thousands of years ago stimulation procedures (eg tattoos) were also known as pain therapy. And at the glacier man "Ötzi" (dated to about 3300 BC), the scientists found stitch marks and tattoos on the joints.
Acupuncture as part of Chinese medicine and philosophy
While the knowledge about the salutary effect of tapping in Europe seems to have been lost, in traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture - combined with moxibustion (the burning off of medicinal herbs via acupuncture points) - also became established under the influence of natural philosophical currents. An important term from Chinese philosophy is Qi, which refers to the life energy that flows in all things. Equally important are the contrarian currents Ying and Yang, which form a pair of opposites and to which all pairs of opposites in nature can be assigned (sunny-shady, male-female, etc.).
Even in the human body, according to the philosophy, such currents flow and thus make life possible - and only when the currents are balanced, the human being is healthy. Disease is therefore a state of imbalance and acupuncture is said to restore balance by engaging in the affected tracts.
"Rediscovery" of acupuncture
In the nineteenth century, when Western influence spread through missionaries in Asia, traditional medicine also began to waver there and was soon regarded by many Chinese as a superstition. It was not until the initiative of Mao Tse Tung at the end of the 1950s (also due to the poor medical care of the population) that traditional medicine regained a higher status.
The visit of American President Richard Nixon in China in 1972 caused the western world to take more notice of the Asian needle therapy: The Chinese healing artists made a special impression through the operations they performed instead of under anesthesia in a state of pain relief by acupuncture. TCM spread rapidly in the United States and Europe and began to systematically explore their mode of action.