What is Medical Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is just one of the elements that make up the discipline often referred to as traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, is a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual practices that include techniques such as massage therapy and acupuncture, along with herbal medicine and various forms of mind-body exercise such as Daijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan) and Qigong (Chi Gong).
In many states, licensed acupuncturists are independently licensed health-care practitioners. In some states, physicians who obtain additional training and qualification in acupuncture are allowed to perform acupuncture within the scope of their license to practice medicine.
- The term medical acupuncture is used to denote the practice of acupuncture performed by a licensed physician.
- The state requirements for the practice of acupuncture vary. Be sure that any practitioner you visit has met the requirements for your state.
The History of Acupuncture
The earliest known source of information on acupuncture is a text called the Huang Di Nei Jing, or Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, which is believed to have originated as early as the second century BC.
The Nei Jing regarded the human body as a miniature representation of the universe as a whole and taught that a state of health could be achieved by balancing the body's internal environment with the external environment of the entire universe.
- The earliest European reports about acupuncture came from Jesuit missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. In fact, the word acupuncture was coined by French Jesuits, from the Latin acus (needle) and punctura (puncture).
- Although it has been widely believed that this represented the earliest European introduction to acupuncture, acupuncture may have actually been a practice familiar to ancient Europeans. The mummified remains of the so-called Austrian Iceman, who has come to be known as Oetzi, were found in the Italian Alps in 1991. The mummy is believed to be over 5,000 years old. A series of tattoos was discovered on Oetzi's body, which correspond to the locations of traditional acupuncture points still in use today. It has been suggested that these ancient Europeans might have been aware of the practice of acupuncture earlier than had previously been thought.
- In the United States, accounts of acupuncture began to appear in the medical literature in the mid-1800s. In fact, Sir William Osler included a section on the use of acupuncture for the treatment of "lumbago and sciatica" in his respected textbook The Principles and Practice of Medicine from 1892 through its final edition in 1947. The 1901 edition of Gray's Anatomy included this statement: "The sciatic nerve has been acupunctured for the relief of sciatica."
- A turning point in the introduction of acupuncture in the United States came in 1971. James Reston, a reporter for The New York Times, was in Beijing to report on a ping-pong match between China and the United States. While there, he developed acute appendicitis and required an emergency appendectomy. The report of his firsthand experience with acupuncture for the management of his post-operative pain was published on the front page of The New York Times. This sparked an intense interest in acupuncture by the public. Several months later, a report favorable to acupuncture was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- In 1987, a major step forward in the acceptance of acupuncture by Western medicine occurred with the founding of the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture. The AAMA became the sole physician-based acupuncture society in North America.
- It is estimated that, by 1991, 8,000 nonphysicians and 1,500 physicians were practicing acupuncture in the United States. An article published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1993 by David Eisenberg, MD, and colleagues reported that $14 billion were spent by Americans in 1990 on "alternative therapies." It was becoming apparent that the public was embracing complementary medicine.
- In 1992 the Office of Alternative Medicine was created within the U.S. National Institutes of Health. In 1997, the office convened a Consensus Development Conference that resulted in the publication of a Consensus Statement affirming the benefit of acupuncture for certain medical conditions. These conditions included postoperative and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, postoperative dental pain, substance addiction, stroke rehabilitation, headaches, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and asthma.
- A significant development in the acceptance of acupuncture in the United States occurred in 1996, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reclassified acupuncture needles from the Class III, or "investigational" category, to Class IIb, the category that means "safe, effective, but with special restrictions." By no longer being considered investigational, acupuncture moved forward toward medical legitimacy.
- In 1998, the Office of Alternative Medicine was expanded to become the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The NCCAM is one of the twenty-seven agencies that are part of the National Institutes of Health. One of NCCAM's major goals is to research and present information on complementary medical systems under rigorous scientific practice.
- Another first in Medical Acupuncture occurred in April of 2000, with the establishment of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture. The board offered its first certifying examination for physicians in October 2000, allowing physicians the opportunity to demonstrate proof of proficiency in the specialty of medical acupuncture. Physicians who pass the ABMA certifying examination are referred to as Diplomates of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (DABMA) and are considered to be board certified in medical acupuncture.
Last Reviewed 11/20/2017
Patient Comments & Reviews
The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Medical Acupuncture: