Western medical acupuncture is a therapeutic modality involving the insertion of fine needles; it is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, and the principles of evidence based medicine.
About two millennia ago, the Chinese made the significant discovery that needling can influence various functions of the body, and explained this in terms of the ideology current at that time. The conceptual advances since the scientific revolution, particularly the relatively recent discoveries of the neurotransmitters and neuroplasticity, have led to a new understanding of the mechanisms of acupuncture and justify the use of a new term, WMA. The term “Western medical acupuncture” is used to distinguish it from acupuncture used as part of Chinese traditional medicine. Two important distinctions between WMA and Chinese acupuncture are that WMA does not involve the traditional concepts such as Yin/Yang and circulation of “qi”, and that WMA does not claim to be an “alternative” medical system.
The most widespread application of acupuncture is for pain relief, most commonly musculoskeletal pain but also other forms of chronic pain such as neuralgia and cancer pain. In practice, it is less often used to suppress procedural pain, postoperative pain or nausea though it has been shown to be effective in these situations.
Treatment with WMA follows when a conventional medical examination, appropriate investigations and diagnosis confirm that the symptoms are suitable for treatment with acupuncture. Needles are inserted and stimulated to obtain the required physiological effect. Manual and electrical stimulation of needles are used; duration of needling is variable, ranging from very brief to up to 20 or 30 minutes.