The practice of acupuncture originated in China 5,000 years ago. Today it is widely used throughout the world and is one of the main pillars of Chinese medicine.
There are many different varieties of the practice of acupuncture, both in the Orient and in the West. The most common forms available to westerners are as follows: traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) usually combines acupuncture with Chinese herbs. Classical acupuncture (also known as five element acupuncture) uses a different needling technique and relies on acupuncture independent of the use of herbs. Japanese acupuncture uses smaller needles than the other varieties. Medical acupuncture refers to acupuncture practiced by a conventional medical doctor.
Auricular acupuncture treats the entire body through acupuncture points in the ears only. Electroacupuncture uses electrical currents attached to acupuncture needles. Aside from needles, other methods of stimulation are also considered forms of "acupuncture." These include use of heat from the burning of herbs placed on the points ("moxibustion"), and the placement of herbal pastes on specific points. Research into the effectiveness of acupuncture has special challenges.
These include the diversity of approaches, the practice of individualizing treatment for each patient, differing skill levels between practitioners, and difficulty separating out the effects of acupuncture from placebo effects (i.e., how the patient's beliefs and expectations affect their perception of symptoms).
Based on acupuncture's long history of use as well as the limited research available, both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have identified many conditions for which it may be recommended. However, many common uses do not yet have formal scientific evidence to support them.