Acupuncture is a treatment with a long history. Although at Galapagos Acupuncture Manhattan, we present it as a modern complementary medicine therapy, the theory and practice behind acupuncture comes from China, and the first documents that describe acupuncture and how it works date back to a few hundred years B.C.E.
There is evidence that acupuncture is much older than that, though. There are archaeological records showing that sharpened stones or long, sharp bones were being used to give acupuncture-like treatments around 6,000 years B.C.E – although there is some debate as to whether those instruments may have been used for other surgical procedures – for example to lance an abscess.
The system of meridians which acupuncture relies on has a long history. There were some documents found in the Ma-Wang-Dui tomb, dating back to 198 B.C.E, which describe the system of meridians, although they do not reference acupuncture directly.
The idea behind acupuncture is that energy flows through the human body, and if you can channel the energy properly then you will benefit from balance and health. That flow of energy is known as qi, and the thought is that the qi moves through the body, along 12 channels, which represent the organs and functions of the body. The meridians do not follow the same exact pathways of nerves that we know in modern western medicine, and they do not follow the blood flow that we know to be true either. The meridians do still have a decent representation of key areas of the body, however.
The Ice Man, who died in 3300 B.C.E, bore tattoos that reflected the meridians, and it appears that he may have been given treatment on those points. He was well preserved, and was found when the glacier melted. Sadly, he was an unusual case and there is little other surviving evidence from that time so we cannot be sure how common his treatments were.
The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine – a document dating from approximately 100 B.C.E contains a lot of information about acupuncture. The emperor wrote out some questions, and his learned minister, Chhi-Po (aka, Qí Bó) answered them. This book is a mine of information about meridians, and the channels that qi flows through. There is not a lot of information about the detailed sites that acupuncture would use in that book, but over the next few centuries the practice was developed, and it became a standard form of therapy in China, alongside massage, heat therapy, and herbal medicine.
It was not until the fifteenth century that acupuncture became so well documented that we got the bronze statues that have the points that are used in modern practice. Those statues are used for teaching purposes and as a part of examinations. The practice today remains similar to what was documented during that time, although most modern practitioners would not talk about acupuncture being the manipulation of qi – rather, they use the same meridians, and talk about the systems of the body being connected, and about man being connected with nature.
Acupuncture is now accepted as a complementary therapy in many parts of the world, and is even recommended as a way of managing chronic pain by some health care professionals, even if the mechanisms by which it works are not fully understood. In the 1940s, the Communist Government in China revived a number of traditional therapies, and it became quite popular over the next few decades. It spread to the United States in the 1970s, when a member of the US press corps received acupuncture as a treatment after an emergency appendectomy while visiting China. His reports of the experience led to people experimenting with it in the United States, and it became accepted as being effective for some conditions.