Acupuncture has been used for over 3000 years in the Far East and was first introduced into Europe in the 17th century.

However, widespread interest in the technique did not develop until the 1970s.

Because of increasing public interest in the subject over the last forty years, considerable scientific research has been carried out.

We now know much more about how acupuncture works.


The main therapeutic effects of acupuncture are achieved through stimulation of the nervous system (sensory stimulation). Its known modes of action include local axon reflexes, segmental and extrasegmental neuromodulation, and other central nervous system effects.

Acupuncture needling has local effects through local axon reflexes, releasing neuropeptides (important in pain transmission) and increasing local nutritive blood flow. There is well established evidence that acupuncture increases the body’s release of natural painkillers - endorphin and serotonin - in the pain pathways of both the spinal cord and the brain.

This modifies the way pain signals are received. The clinical effects on musculoskeletal pain are best explained by inhibition of the pain pathway in the spinal cord and by activation of the descending inhibitory pain pathways from the brain. There are clearly other actions of acupuncture on the central nervous system that remain to be fully explored.

Imaging studies with functional MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scans have shown that acupuncture stimulation can reach important areas deep within the brain and have provided good evidence of effects on various brain centres involved in pain control.

The most widespread application of acupuncture is for pain relief, most commonly musculoskeletal pain including myofascial trigger point pain and also other forms of chronic pain. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of chronic low back pain, neck pain including whiplash injuries, chronic headaches, knee osteoarthritis, and shoulder pain to mention some. It has also been shown to be effective in nausea and vomiting, overactive bladder, irritable bowel syndrome; many women's problems like dysmenorrhoea and menopausal hot flushes.