By definition, acupuncture is the stimulation of certain surface-level pressure points throughout the body involving methods like the application of heat, pressure, laser light, or most commonly, penetration by thin needles. Though in the United States and other westernized countries acupuncture is a form of alternative therapy in health and medicinal industries, acupuncture is actually a form of traditional Chinese medicine.

Where Does Acupuncture Come From?

The precise origins of acupuncture are uncertain and debated, but the first documented use of acupuncture, though not called by that name, is commonly attributed to Emperor Shennong, a hero and Chinese legend. In addition to being credited as the inventor of the weekly farmers market, the Chinese calendar, and the practice of digging wells for water, Shennong is said to have developed acupuncture while researching the human pulse and how to take pulse measurements. Despite Shennong’s development of acupuncture, it wasn’t until about 1000 BCE that acupuncture would become a formalized therapy and would be documented by that name.

We have evidence of early Chinese practitioners mapping the body’s numerous pressure points in the form of acupuncture maps found tattooed on the body of a 5,000-year-old mummy. In 1991, two German tourists thought they found the corpse of an unfortunate mountaineer sticking halfway out of a glacier among the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. However, the tourists had found Ötzi the Iceman. Upon examination, it was found that Ötzi was sporting a series of tattoos–short, vertical and parallel lines over and around areas like the lumbar spine, behind the knee, and around both ankles. Of Ötzi’s 15 groups of tattoos, many match up to the acupuncture points used by practitioners today. It’s likely that acupuncture was used to treat osteochondrosis, spondylosis and other degenerative conditions, which Ötzi shows signs of suffering from.

On a side note, a DNA analysis of his remarkably well-preserved tissue has found that Ötzi has descendants that are alive today, 5,300 years after his death.

Acupuncture Today
It’s thought that acupuncture started to take off in the United States after James Reston, and New York Times reporter, received acupuncture treatment in 1971 for pain related to a prior surgery and wrote about the immense relief the treatment gave him. Ongoing research has sought to identify the mechanisms of acupuncture that make it a beneficial treatment for a range of afflictions. According to research studies, it’s thought that acupuncture allows the release of opioids and other such peptides into the central nervous system and its periphery, and thus promotes improvements in neuroendocrine functioning. Though more research is necessary and studies into the efficacy of acupuncture are ongoing, the preliminary findings are promising and support the use of acupuncture as a therapeutic treatment for certain chronic conditions.

By the 2010s, over 14 million Americans have reported using acupuncture as part of their health and medical care.  About 10 million acupuncture treatments are administered annually in the US alone, providing relief from things like side effects of chemotherapy, post-operative treatment, situations of addiction, headaches and migraines, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, carpal tunnel, and asthma.

Reconstruction of Ötzi
About the author

My name is Dane. I'm a writer at Android Authority as well as a tech journalist in general. As well, I'm a marketing guru, designer, and a budding web developer. My passions include portmanteaus, artisanal coffees, jackets, and the smell of fresh technology in the morning.