About Acupuncture

In China, where Western and Eastern medicine are combined in all major hospitals under the term ‘integrated medicine’, acupuncture is used by millions of people. It is used frequently for oncology, rheumatology, dermatology and a range of other issues.

Chinese medicine is based on ancient information written 2,000 years ago, from the second century BC. This information was condensed and systemised in the beginning of the 20th Century, at the time of China’s Cultural Revolution. The four – year undergraduate course in acupuncture in the 21st Century contains the same basic information from 2,000 years ago, using the same main reference materials.

Acupuncture was first approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a method for treating pain in 1979 and today it is endorsed by health services worldwide. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) offers acupuncture, and in the U.S., it is recognised by the National Institute for Health (NIH), the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research.

In Australia, acupuncture has been reimbursed by the Australian National Health System under the Medicare Benefits Scheme (MBS) (Items 173, 193, 195, 197 and 199) since 1984, and is one of the most accepted forms of complementary medicine among Australian GPs.11 Acupuncture is also increasingly used by patients, with a 2008 study finding that 9.2 percent of Australians had used acupuncture in the 12-month study period, with back pain being the most common condition treated. 22

Understanding Acupuncture through Western Medicine 

Western medicine addresses the complex multiple system effects of acupuncture on the body. There are studies ranging from effective noticeable brain changes under MRI scans, nerve pathway theories, hormone release changes (opioid systems activated in the brain), blood flow changes and even placebo effects, although there are many demonstrated physiological responses.55

The most recent study, a meta-analysis of 17,922 patients published in September 2012, showed significant differences between true and sham acupuncture trials. The study concluded that acupuncture is more than just a placebo, effective for the treatment of chronic pain and therefore a reasonable referral option for doctors.66 Another study conducted by the University of York, UK, investigated the economic value afforded by acupuncture for the treatment of lower back pain, neck pain, dysmenorrhea, migraines, arthritis, and headaches, concluding it to be a cost-effective intervention.77

There are many studies available and there are many in-progress that suggest a range of effects, with a 2007 German pain trial finding acupuncture reduces lower back pain twice as much as conventional therapy (compared to drugs, physical therapy and exercise).88 In 2005, a RMIT trial examined the effect of acupuncture for pain relief on more than 1,000 patients at the Emergency Department of the Northern Hospital in Melbourne, and it was shown to be a potentially effective therapy for acute pain management.

This led to a three-year NHMRC-funded project to treat acute migraine, back pain and ankle injuries currently underway, led by Professor Marc Cohen and Professor Charlie Xue.99,110 Research into acupuncture is continuing in Australia, particularly through the University of Western Sydney and the University of Sydney, as well as the RMIT in Melbourne.

Understanding Acupuncture through Eastern Medicine

The Eastern medicine understanding is based around the concept of energy. Good health is understood to be the smooth flow of energy through meridians or pathways in the body. Pain is stated as being energy that is stuck and the use of acupuncture needles inserted in the body moves this stuck energy and helps the body heal itself.

The source of energy is still elusive, and there is no current scientific definition for it.

Diagnosis and Treatment Process


Diagnosis is conducted with the visible signs and symptoms of an issue and then interpreted according to Chinese medicine theory, and treatment is given accordingly. The needles used in acupuncture are extremely fine, and in a majority of cases, patients will not feel any pain from the needle. Most patients report some sensation in the body with acupuncture, similar to a tingling sensation. There can be a dullness, heat, muscle spasm or feeling at the point of insertion, or at other areas in the body where there are no needles. Often following a treatment, patients will feel physically, emotionally or mentally noticeably different for a short period of time.



11. pmc/articles/PMC3339354/

22. Xue et. al. 2008

55. Huang W, Pach D, Napadow V, Park K, Long X, et al. (2012) Characterizing Acupuncture Stimuli Using Brain Imaging with fMRI – A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Literature. PLoS ONE 7(4): e32960. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032960 April 9, 2012

66. Vickers et. al.2012/ article.aspx?articleid=1357513

77. acupuncturist-news-online/ 607-acupunctureceuscostsavingspainrelief

88. Michael Haake, PhD, MD et al. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(17):1892-1898.

99. _files_nhmrc/file/nics/material_resources/ july_2009_newsletter.pdf

110. content/pdf/1745-6215-12-241.pdf


The information outlined on this website is based on current best evidence research and clinical practice.

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