A Very Brief Overview of Western Medical Acupuncture 

What is Western Medical Acupuncture?

“The word acupuncture meaning ‘to prick with a needle’ was coined by Willem ten Rhyne. ”

The earliest detailed report on Chinese and Japanese medicine to be written by a European was by Willem ten Rhyne, a Dutch physician who published Dissertatio de arthritide in 1683 (Bivins 2001). 

Following this lineage, the concept of medical acupuncture was pioneered by Felix Mann who began to view acupuncture as a form of peripheral nerve stimulation technique. In this approach needles are inserted into anatomically defined sites, and stimulated manually or with electricity.

Preferential sites for acupuncture stimulation are associated with areas rich in specialized sensory receptors such as muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, ligament receptors, Paciniform and Ruffini’s receptors (joint capsules), deep pressure endings (within muscle belly), and free nerve endings (muscle and fascia). All of these areas are highly innervated and as a result there are a number of physiological responses that help modulate the experience of pain.

Acupuncture Research Has Matured

For certain condition (particularly musculoskeletal pain) there is evidence from The Cochrane Collaborative, The American College of Physicians, Canadian Medical Association and other high quality systematic reviews:
• Chronic pain (MacPherson et al. 2017Vickers et al. 2012)
• Acute pain (Murakami et al. 2017)
• Low back pain (Andronis et al. 2017, Busse et al. 2017, Chou et al. 2017Qaseem et al. 2017)
• Neck pain (Kjaer et al. 2017)
• Tension-type headaches (Busse et al. 2017Linde et al. 2016)
• Migraines (Busse et al. 2017Linde et al. 2016Yang et al. 2016)
• Osteoarthritis (Busse et al. 2017Lin et al. 2016Woods et al. 2017)
• Carpal tunnel syndrome (Cox et al. 2016)
• Achilles tendinopathy (Cox et al. 2016)

Mechanism of Action: Many clinicians explain the mechanism of action in neurophysiological terms.

If you use Occam's razor, the insertion of an acupuncture needle is a form of novel stimuli, that functions by sending anti-nociceptive input to the neuroimmune system. This contributes to a number of physiological changes across different areas of the peripheral and central nervous systems, including peripheral receptors, dorsal horn of the spinal cord, brainstem, sensorimotor cortical areas, and the mesolimbic and prefrontal areas (Chen et al. 2017Maeda et al. 2017).


More to Explore

Andronis L, Kinghorn P, Qiao S, Whitehurst DG, Durrell S, McLeod H. (2017). Cost-Effectiveness of Non-Invasive and Non-Pharmacological Interventions for Low Back Pain: a Systematic Literature Review. Appl Health Econ Health Policy.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27550240

Bivins, R. (2001). The needle and the lancet: Acupuncture in Britain, 1683-2000. Acupuncture in Medicine.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11471579

Brennan, K.L., Allen, B.C., Maldonado, Y.M. (2017). Dry Needling Versus Cortisone Injection in the Treatment of Greater Trochanteric Pain Syndrome: A Non-Inferiority Randomized Clinical Trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28257614

Busse, J.W., Craigie, S., Juurlink, D.N, ... Guyatt GH. (2017). Guideline for opioid therapy and chronic noncancer pain. CMAJ.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28483845

Chen, L., Michalsen, A. (2017). Management of chronic pain using complementary and integrative medicine. BMJ.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28438745

Chou, R., Deyo, R., Friedly, J., Skelly, A., Hashimoto, R., ... Brodt, E.D. (2017). Nonpharmacologic Therapies for Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review for an American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Ann Intern Med.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28192793

Cox, J., Varatharajan, S., Côté, P., Optima Collaboration. (2016). Effectiveness of Acupuncture Therapies to Manage Musculoskeletal Disorders of the Extremities: A Systematic Review. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27117725

Gerber, L.H., Sikdar, S., Aredo, J.V., Armstrong, K., Rosenberger, W.F., Shao, H., Shah, J.P. (2017). Beneficial Effects of Dry Needling for Treatment of Chronic Myofascial Pain Persist for 6 Weeks After Treatment Completion. PM R.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27297448

Frieden, T. R., & Houry, D. (2016). Reducing the Risks of Relief — The CDC Opioid-Prescribing Guideline. New England Journal of Medicine.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26977701

Ji, R.R., Chamessian, A., Zhang, Y.Q. (2016). Pain regulation by non-neuronal cells and inflammation. Science.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27811267

Kjaer, P., Kongsted, A., Hartvigsen, J., ... Povlsen, T.M. (2017). National clinical guidelines for non-surgical treatment of patients with recent onset neck pain or cervical radiculopathy. Eur Spine J.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28523381

Lin, X., Huang, K., Zhu, G., Huang, Z., Qin, A., & Fan, S. (2016). The Effects of Acupuncture on Chronic Knee Pain Due to Osteoarthritis: A Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27655986

Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Shin, B., . . . White, A. R. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27092807

Linde, K., Allais, G., Brinkhaus, B., Fei, Y., Mehring, M., Vertosick, E. A., . . . White, A. R. (2016). Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27351677

MacPherson, H., Vickers, A., Bland, M., Torgerson, D., Corbett, M., Spackman, E., ..., Watt, I. (2017). Acupuncture for chronic pain and depression in primary care: a programme of research. Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28121095

Maeda, Y., Kim, H., Kettner, N., Kim, J., Cina, S., .... Napadow, V. (2017). Rewiring the primary somatosensory cortex in carpal tunnel syndrome with acupuncture. Brain.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28334999

Millstine, D., Chen, C., Bauer, B. (2017). Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28512119

Murakami, M., Fox, L., Dijkers, M.P. (2017). Ear Acupuncture for Immediate Pain Relief-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Pain Med.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28395101

Pavlov, V.A., Tracey, K.J. (2017). Neural regulation of immunity: molecular mechanisms and clinical translation. Nat Neurosci.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28092663

Qaseem, A., Wilt, T.J., McLean, R.M., Forciea, M.A. (2017). Clinical Guidelines Committee of the American College of Physicians.. Noninvasive Treatments for Acute, Subacute, and Chronic Low Back Pain: A Clinical Practice Guideline From the American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28192789

Salazar, T.E., Richardson, M.R., Beli, E., ... Grant, M.B. (2017). Electroacupuncture Promotes CNS-Dependent Release of Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Stem Cells.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28299842

Sawynok, J. (2016). Adenosine receptor targets for pain. Neuroscience.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26500181

Tang, Y., Yin, H., Rubini, P., & Illes, P. (2016). Acupuncture-Induced Analgesia: A Neurobiological Basis in Purinergic Signaling. The Neuroscientist.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27343858

Vickers, A. J., Cronin, A. M., Maschino, A. C., Lewith, G., Macpherson, H., Foster, N. E., . . . Collaboration, F. T. (2012). Acupuncture for Chronic Pain. Archives of Internal Medicine.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22965186

Volkow, N.D., McLellan, A.T. (2016). Opioid Abuse in Chronic Pain--Misconceptions and Mitigation Strategies. N Engl J Med.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27028915

Woods, B., Manca, A., ... Sculpher, M. (2017). Cost-effectiveness of adjunct non-pharmacological interventions for osteoarthritis of the knee. PLoS One.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28267751

Yang, Y., Que, Q., Ye, X., Zheng, G.h. (2016). Verum versus sham manual acupuncture for migraine: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Acupunct Med.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2671800 

Zhao et al. (2017). The Long-term Effect of Acupuncture for Migraine Prophylaxis A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28241154