Medical acupuncture: what is it?

According to Dr. Joseph Helms from the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture, Medical Acupuncture is defined as the therapeutic insertion of solid needles placed in an assortment of patterns and combinations.  The choice of placement and pattern of needles is based on traditional Chinese principles, such as encouraging the flow of the body’s vital energy force, ‘Qi’ (pronounced chee) or based upon more modern concepts, such as recruiting neuromuscular anatomical reactions in segmental arrangements.

Acupuncture: a brief history

The first known book of Chinese Medicine emerged between first century BC and first century AD.  The philosophical view behind acupuncture bears roots in Daoist beliefs, which originated over 8,000 years ago, at a time when people would meditate and observe the flow of the Universe.  The Chinese describe the Universe and the body as being two opposing forces, yin and yang.  When these forces are functioning in harmony, the body is balanced; Qi can flow through the body’s meridians uninterrupted.  A blockage in energy flow has the potential to manifest as pain, poor physiological body function, or illness.  Modern research has exhibited the positive effects of acupuncture on the nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, immune and digestive system.

The earliest book on Chinese Medicine, the Nei Jing, was recorded between 305-204 BC, and focused on acupuncture, specifically, a description of the meridians, functions of the acupuncture points, needling techniques, types of Qi and the location of 160 points (Suvow, 2017).  The Ming Dynasty (1568-1644) was the edifying period in the advancement of acupuncture.  Classic text books were revised, new needling techniques were created, and extra acupuncture points were discovered.  Acupuncture was extensively used during the Long March (1934-35) in China, and despite harsh conditions, the maintenance of good health of the army is largely credited to the application of acupuncture.  In 1950 Chairman Mao officially consolidated Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western Medicine and acupuncture became established in hospitals, safeguarding the continued use of acupuncture in modern society, and ensuring that acupuncture remains an important component of China’s medical system (Suvow, 2017).

The concept behind acupuncture is to provoke the body’s natural self-healing response by stimulating specific anatomical sites.  Acupuncture is relatively pain-free and most people feel no or minimal discomfort during placement of the needles.  Other information that may be collected from patients during initial consultations includes: shape, colour and coating of the tongue, pulse, and possibly performing additional physical health examinations.  Length of treatment will vary amongst individuals, with some reporting relief within the first treatment.  On average, patients should expect to receive 1-2 treatments per week for several months; this is especially the case in long-standing, unresolved health issues.

In line with Elevates’ holistic treatment approach, the practitioner may recommend other therapeutic interventions, which may involve allopathic medicine, herbal medicine, or nutritional consultations.

How effective is medical acupuncture?

The benefits of acupuncture are far-reaching and have the potential to help mitigate the negative side effects of wide-ranging health afflictions, such as pain due to muscular-skeletal conditions, as well as pain due to unspecific causes (e.g. fibromyalgia).  Acupuncture has also demonstrated use in preventative healthcare measures, such as fertility support and hormone balancing for both females, and males.

A study by Thiagarajah (2017) found that acupuncture reduced pain associated with plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the fascia lining the bottom of the foot) in the short-term of 8 weeks, however, Thiagarajah concluded there is insufficient evidence for a definitive answer regarding the use of acupuncture in long-term pain management and plantar fasciitis; more research is needed.

Wang et al., (2016) explored the effects of acupuncture and smoking cessation.  Researchers in this study recruited over 5,000 smokers in their prospective multicentre observational study which ran for 52 weeks.  Within the first week 1,106 subjects succeeded in smoking cessation; 1,237 in the 2nd week; 1,769 in the 8th week; 1,142 in the 26th week; and 955 subjects in the 52nd week.  Outcome measures included both self-report measures, as well as measuring exhaled breath carbon monoxide levels.  Researchers concluded acupuncture was a safe method in aiding patients in smoking cessation, and should be considered as part of the standard treatment protocol.

Betts, Smith & Dahlen (2016) explored whether acupuncture has a role in the treatment of threatened miscarriage.  The study involved a randomised control trial and semi-structured interviews.  An acupuncture protocol paired with medical self-care was compared against a control group receiving active touch intervention and medical self-care.  Forty women were included and randomised in the study.  Compared to the touch intervention, for women receiving acupuncture, there was a statistically significant (p = 0.04) minimisation in the symptoms of threatened miscarriage, including bleeding, cramping, and back pain, when compared against the control group.  Both groups were dissatisfied with the medical self-care advice given during the intervention.  Researchers in the study concluded acupuncture was a feasible and pragmatic intervention to support women experiencing repeated threatened miscarriages and is safe to use alongside conventional medical techniques.

In conclusion, acupuncture has proven to be effective as not only a stand-alone treatment, but in combination alongside other holistic and integrative health interventions.

At Elevate, we believe that health issues are multi-faceted and require several avenues to achieve positive treatment outcomes. Our Integrative GP, Dr Sandy Eun may incorporate acupuncture as part of her individualised treatment programs. Contact Elevate today for more information regarding the allied and holistic services offered at our CBD clinic.


Betts D, Smith CA, & Dahlen HG. Does acupuncture have a role in the treatment of threatened miscarriage? Findings from a feasibility randomised control trial and semi-structured participant interviews. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2016;Oct 7;16(1):298.

Helms, J, MD. An overview of medical acupuncture. The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (2017). Retrieved from on 18 April 2017.

Suvow, S. The history of acupuncture. (2017). The Academy of Classical Oriental Sciences. Retrieved from on 18 April 2017.

Thiagarajah, Anandan. How effective is acupuncture for reducing pain in plantar fasciitis? Singapore Med J. 2017;Feb;58(2):92-97. Doi: 10.11622/smedj.2016143.

Wang Y, Liu Z, Zhang O, Chen M, Huang L, He X, Wu G, Yang J. Acupuncture for smoking cessation in Hong Kong: a prospective multicentre observational study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;Nov 28;Vol 2016:PMC5149689. Doi: 10.1155/2016/2865831.


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