Acupuncture is an alternative medicine that treats patients by insertion and manipulation of needles at specific points. These acupuncture points are said to lie along meridians, channels guiding the flow of qi, or “life energy“. Its practitioners variously claim that it relieves pain, treats infertility, treats disease, prevents disease, promotes general health, or can be used for therapeutic purposes.[1] Acupuncture typically incorporates traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as an integral part of its practice and theory. The earliest written record of acupuncture is the Chinese text Shiji (史記, English: Records of the Grand Historian), with elaboration of its history in the second century BCE medical text Huangdi Neijing (黃帝內經, English: Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon).[2] Different variations of acupuncture are practiced and taught throughout the world.

The acupuncture points are located on what are what TCM describs as paths (“meridians“) where the qi, or “life energy” flows. Ideas of what constitutes “health” and “healing” sometimes differ from concepts used in scientific, evidence based medicine. Acupuncture was developed prior to the science of anatomy and the cell theory upon which the science of biology is based, and disease is believed to be caused by an imbalance of yin and yang caused by a blockage or stagnation of qi, not by infectious agents. Meridians and acupuncture points were determined observationally[citation needed] and metaphysically,[3] and do not correspond to any anatomical structure. No force corresponding to qi (or yin and yang) has been found in the sciences of physics or human physiology.[3][4][5][6][7]

Evidence supports the use of acupuncture to control some types of nausea[8] and pain,[9] but evidence for the treatment of other conditions is equivocal,[10] and several review articles discussing the effectiveness of acupuncture have concluded it is possible to explain through the placebo effect.[11][12] Publication bias is a significant concern when evaluating the literature. Other claims of efficacy have not been tested. Reports from the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the American Medical Association (AMA) and various US government reports have studied and commented on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of acupuncture. There is general agreement that acupuncture is safe when administered by well-trained practitioners using sterile needles, and that further research is needed.[5][13][14][15]

The term “acupuncture” is sometimes used to refer to dry needling, which uses anatomical rather than metaphysical placement, or to transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which applies an electric current via filiform needles.[16][17]

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