Acupuncture therapy involves the insertion of fine needles into specific parts of the body for the relief of pain and the treatment of illness. It is now practised in many parts of the world but was first developed in China where records date back to about 3,000 BC. (It is also known that doctors in Arabia and Africa have for many centuries used needles of metal, stone or wood to drain pus from wounds and relieve pain.) There are several schools of acupuncture ranging from the very traditional approach, shunning innovation and other medical disciplines, to the very modern, developing new techniques using the latest technology such as lasers and working towards full integration with other forms of healing.

Acupuncture philosophy

Traditional acupuncture philosophy is based on empirical observations and the Taoist theory of opposed Yin and Yang. A person’s health, character and success are determined by the flow of the vital life Force, or ‘Qi’ (pronounced ‘chee’), which keeps the blood circulating, keeps the blood warm, fights disease and maintains a balance between the two polarities of the body: Yin – female, movement inwards, night, heaviness and negative ; and Yang – male, movement outwards, day, lightness and positive. The vigour, flow and distribution of Qi in the body is related to a proper balance of Yin and Yang as the life force circulates along channels which acupuncturists call meridians.

There are twelve principal meridians, ten associated with particular organs and two with more encompassing ‘functions’. Yin organs are the more solid ones such as liver, heart, lungs, pericardium, kidney and spleen; Yang organs tend to be hollow, such as the stomach, gall bladder, large and small intestines and bladder. Disharmony in the balance between Yin and Yang as a result of blockages or short-circuits in the channels leads to disruption of Qi, and so to ill health. Acupuncture points lie along the meridians. Needles inserted at specific acupuncture points, which are determined by the symptoms of the illness, restore the balance by increasing or decreasing the energy in a meridian by removal of the blockage or transfer to a paired meridian.

Much research has been carried out to identify consistent anatomical or physiological features associated with acupuncture points and meridians; it is possible to interpret the results in a number of ways. There is some correlation between the points at which the needles are inserted and the body’s electrical properties. Acupuncture points can be accurately identified on the skin at sites of low electrical resistance, and changes in the electrical characteristics of the points and meridians can be used for diagnosis and for monitoring the progress of treatment. Modern techniques have also led to the discovery of meridians not described in traditional acupuncture texts, notably the nervous and lymph meridians.