The Dummies’ Guide to Acupuncture

What follows is an extract from our popular The Therapy Book: The essential A-Z guide to every holistic therapy, which will give you, in a nutshell, all you need to know to help to decide whether acupuncture will be a suitable therapy for you.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a Western term which means “puncturing with needles”. It involves inserting needles into the patient and manipulating them, at any of the 360 or so points around the body. The needles are far smaller than those used for giving injections, as they do not need to be hollow and the lengths vary with the type of treatment.

The origins of acupuncture can be traced back as far as 4,000 years, and it is thought to have begun in China where the ancient practice of this therapy is known as classical Chinese acupuncture. Medical doctors in China have been commonly using acupuncture in hospitals for about the last 50 years, and although this form of the therapy is referred to as a traditional Chinese medicine, it is actually a modernised form of the ancient therapy.

Over the last few decades in particular, there has been much interest in acupuncture in the Western world. So much so that a Western form, called medical acupuncture, has been developed and introduced. This form practiced by Western doctors is more simplified and it’s not necessary for them to first study the traditional theories and techniques as is based on scientific method.

How does acupuncture work?

The traditional Chinese medicine and classical Chinese acupuncture methods are based on the principle that a person’s health is a balance of yin and yang – two opposing but complementary forces: Yin represents the blood and yang represents a person’s vital energy, known as Qi or Chi. In order for these two to function in harmony, acupuncture serves to encourage the free-flow, or regulate the flow, of both where required.

In Chinese treatments, the needles — which are called filiform needles — are inserted at points of the body that follow the fourteen channels, or meridians, using the traditionally identified acupuncture points.

In Western medical acupuncture, treatments are based on the scientific method, using medical knowledge of the body and how our physiology and biochemistry are affected by the needles. Medical acupuncture therefore has no reference at all to either the acupuncture points or meridians used in the Chinese therapies.

What can acupuncture be used for?

In China, the most common use of acupuncture today is as an alternative to anaesthetics during surgery. When inserted at certain points around the body, the needle serves to block out the pain that would otherwise be felt at the point of surgery. This is of course very beneficial to patients who might otherwise be at risk under anaesthetic.

Chinese doctors also find acupuncture useful for the treatment of some types of heart disease, and for treating high blood pressure, as well as appendicitis and asthma.

In the Western world, acupuncture is recognised as a complementary therapy to various conditions, such as acute and chronic pain, anorexia, constipation and diarrhoea, headache and muscle spasms to name a few. The World Health Organisation has actually listed around 40 conditions that can be successfully treated with acupuncture.

Is acupuncture an effective form of therapy?

Opinion is divided as to the effectiveness of acupuncture, be it the traditional Chinese medicine form or medical acupuncture form, and there are criticisms of both.

When you consider the fact that this has been a therapy used in China for thousands of years, you would assume that it must be an effective form of treatment. And whilst there have been preliminary trials to find out the overall effectiveness of acupuncture, Western understanding of the Chinese-used acupuncture points is still very inadequate.

Trials have shown that acupuncture might be an effective therapy for preventing nausea and possibly neck pain and headache. But there is far too little evidence to support claims that it can help stop people smoking.

Are there any known side effects with acupuncture?

Small effects such as minor bleeding and dizziness are the most common side effects, though if you have acupuncture therapy with a reputable practitioner who follows the usual safety guidelines you would expect to find in the Western world you should not be at risk. However, you should be aware of the injuries that could occur from improper insertion of the needles, which include:

  • brain damage
  • kidney damage
  • nerve injury
  • piercing the lung or heart
  • pregnancy termination
  • stroke

But if you have a qualified practitioner, these would be extremely unlikely to happen.

Where can you find further information on acupuncture?


Our popular Dummies’ Guide style book, The Therapy Book will give you the least you need to know, in the simplest of terms, about how to choose the best holistic health therapy for your needs.

This is the ultimate natural health reference book for your shelves, with comprehensive information on more than 200 holistic, alternative and complementary health therapies in an easily understandable format.

It is easily searchable, uses plain language and is organised into easy-to-digest, bite-sized chunks, so you will soon know…

  • what each therapy is
  • how each therapy works
  • what each therapy can be used for
  • whether the therapy is effective
  • whether there are any known side effects

The Therapy Book is the perfect gift for discerning individuals who like to look after their own health and wellbeing, as well as holistic health practitioners who wish to use it as a comprehensive resource with which to continue their professional development.

You can read more here about The Therapy Book

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