Acupuncture is an ancient technique of stimulating special points located along the energy channels with fine needles. The aim is to unbind the flow of Qi - just like in Qigong and other TCM modalities.

Most common 360 points used in Acupuncture is a subset of all active points found in the body when Qigong internal vision is applied (read more about the channels and points here). One of the reasons to choose this subset of points was perhaps due to their safety for needling. However, many of those points also form major intersections of the energy channels, and that allows the practitioners to influence many internal organs at once. Acupuncture needles are left in the body for a few minutes, so that stimulation may be continuous and the body can "memorise" the new altered flow of Qi.

In addition to needling, Acupuncture may involve:

  • Moxibustion - warming up the channels and points with moxa - a special incense made of dried mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) herb. According to Chinese herbal medicine, artemisia has "Yang" properties and produces heat similar to the heat of the Sun (artemisia as an internally taken herb is also used to break up blood stasis). The idea is to bring "Yang Qi" into the organs and areas, but also break Qi stagnation and promote its flow.
  • Cupping - suction cups applied directly to the skin, causing the pathogenic Qi to leave the body through the pores. In actual fact, many children who grew up in Europe had it as a treatment for Bronchitis - long before Chinese Medicine gained its popularity.
  • Gua-Sha - stimulation of skin with a massage stick usually made of horn or bone. Vigorously promotes Qi flow through the channels and blood flow through the muscles, used particularly for musculo-skeletal complaints where soft tissue is involved.
  • Chinese Massage (Tui-Na) - acupressure and many sophisticated techniques of massage, including bone-setting if required.


Some historians believe that Acupuncture was discovered accidentally by Chinese warriors who had arrows going through the skin at certain points, while not causing any pain and even bringing some improvement to their other injuries. Well, who knows.

Once when I was a child, I saw a boy on the street who accidentally got a needle stuck in his hand (it was at He Gu point - see the picture below), and then I saw that boy running away not noticing the needle! That was perhaps my first experience with Acupuncture :)

Commonly practiced for some 2000-3000 years in Asia, Acupuncture came into focus in English-speaking countries since President Nixon visited China in 1972. However, in some Western countries (such as France) Acupuncture found its way earlier due to French being involved in colonisation of East Asia (including Vietnam).

Acceptance in the Western world

Acupuncture becomes more and more recognized and accepted as a valid form of treatment since modern research clearly shows its effectiveness, despite that mechanism of its action is still not exactly understood by academic science. Many private insurance organisations in Europe and United States fund acupuncture, especially when it comes to musculo-skeletal injuries.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Acupuncture as "an originally Chinese practice of inserting fine needles through the skin at specific points especially to cure disease or relieve pain (as in surgery)". While Concise Encyclopedia Britannica adds that it is a "Medical technique in which needles are inserted into the skin and underlying tissues, devised in China before 2500 BC. One or more small metal needles are inserted at precise points along 12 meridians (pathways) in the body, through which the vital life force (Qi) is believed to flow, in order to restore Yin-Yang balance and treat disease caused by Yin-Yang imbalance."

According to World Health Organization, Acupuncture is particularly effective for pain relief and for nausea and vomiting after surgery or chemotherapy. In addition, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health recognize that acupuncture can be a helpful part of a treatment plan for many illnesses. A partial list includes:

  • addiction (such as alcoholism, smoking or drugs)
  • asthma
  • bronchitis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • constipation & diarrhea
  • facial tics
  • fibromyalgia
  • headaches
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • low back pain
  • menopausal symptoms
  • menstrual cramps
  • osteoarthritis
  • sinusitis
  • spastic colon (often called irritable bowel syndrome)
  • stroke rehabilitation
  • tendinitis
  • tennis elbow,
  • and urinary problems such as incontinence.

The American Academy of Medical Acupuncture also lists a wide range of conditions for which acupuncture is appropriate. In addition to those listed above, they recommend acupuncture for:

  • sports injuries
  • sprains & strains
  • whiplash
  • neck pain
  • sciatica
  • nerve pain due to compression
  • overuse syndromes similar to carpal tunnel syndrome
  • pain resulting from spinal cord injuries
  • allergies
  • tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • sore throat (called pharyngitis)
  • high blood pressure
  • gastroesophageal reflux (felt as heartburn or indigestion)
  • ulcers
  • chronic and recurrent bladder and kidney infections
  • premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • infertility
  • endometriosis
  • memory problems
  • insomnia
  • multiple sclerosis
  • sensory disturbances
  • drug detoxification
  • anorexia, depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders

Can I get New Zealand government funding for Acupuncture?

In New Zealand Acupuncture is recognized and partially funded by the ACC as a treatment of choice for many musculo-skeletal conditions secondary to injury or fall. Read more about Acupuncture treatments covered by ACC here.

How many treatments do I need?

The number of acupuncture treatments you need depends on the complexity of your illness, whether it's a chronic or recent condition, and your general health. For example, you may need only one treatment for a recent wrist sprain, while a long-term illness may require treatments for several months to achieve good results. Acupuncture becomes more effective when it is combined with Tui-Na (Chinese Massage), Qigong (Chinese Energy Balancing) and Chinese Herbal Medicine.

Is Acupuncture safe?

In general, acupuncture is safe and well tolerated, when administered by qualified practitioners. One large study found only 43 minor adverse events associated with 34,407 acupuncture treatments. No serious adverse effects were reported. Some health care providers may avoid treatment during pregnancy. Others may be very competent in treating patients who are pregnant. There are certain points that are contraindicated during pregnancy, however other points are thought to benefit pregnancy. Make sure your acupuncture practitioner is competent in addressing the question of risks and benefits of acupuncture during pregnancy before you receive treatment.