How Acupuncture Came to America

How Acupuncture Came to America

To begin, let’s start with a brief history of the first time acupuncture was documented.  Both the theory and the practice of acupuncture originated in China, around 6000BC. Back then, instead of needles, acupuncturists used sharpened stones and sharpened bones for treatment.

The earliest documentation referring to acupuncture procedures is a text called The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine from around 100BC. The book talks about very detailed knowledge about the concepts of channels or meridians (the system of where acupuncture points are located). However, precise knowledge of acupuncture points at this time had yet to be developed. This happened more gradually over the next few centuries, and was usually complemented with herbs, massage, heat therapy, and/or moxibustion (which are still used today).

Bronze statues were created showing acupuncture points in the fifteenth century that are still very much in use today. These statues were made for teaching purposes.

During the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), The Great Compendium of Acupuncture and Moxibustion was written. This is the book on which modern practices of acupuncture lies. It describes 365 points for needles to be inserted for acupuncture treatment.

And then, during the 17th century on, the tradition of acupuncture began to decline. In 1822, the Emperor’s decree excluded acupuncture from the Imperial Medical Institute, as it was laced with superstitions and considered to be irrational at this time. However, some rural healers and scholars continued to hold onto the knowledge of acupuncture to pass on.

Finally, in 1949, the Communist Government revived acupuncture and other traditional forms of medicine. Acupuncture research institutes were established soon after in the 1950’s, allowing the practice to be available in several hospitals.

The practice of acupuncture had spread to several other countries, including Korea and Japan in the 6th century and continued to utilize the ancient form of healing. When a European physician named Ten Rhijne came across the practice while working for the East India Company, he described the practice medically around the year 1680. Within the first half of the 19th century, Britain and the USA had begun to develop interest in the ancient practice of acupuncture.

Acupuncture in America

And at last, on July 26th, 1971 acupuncture was brought to the attention of the American public and its scientific community in a front-page article in the New York Times. A New York Times journalist by the name of James Reston was visiting China with President Nixon when he needed an appendectomy. The doctors in China used acupuncture post-surgery to help pain control, and he noted that his recovery was very quick. Because he was curious about this, Reston asked to watch other surgeries where patients only received acupuncture for anesthesia.

After this The National Institutes of Health (NIH) began to take interest in acupuncture for pain relief, and started to sponsor physicians to travel to China to learn more about acupuncture and its effectiveness in Western medicine.

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