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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 6 (2009), Issue 2, Pages 185-193

Acupuncture: What Underlies Needle Administration?

Traditional Chinese Medicine Department, The 2nd Teaching Hospital, Jilin University, 218 Ziqiang Street, Changchun 130041, Jilin Province, China

Received 18 July 2007; Accepted 17 December 2007

Copyright © 2009 Tao Liu. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy with its mode of action unclear and efficacy inconclusive. A lack of attention given to the role of psychosocial context presented in clinical provision of acupuncture may mainly account for the current dilemma in acupuncture research. This psychosocial context induces various cognitive and affective processes in the patient while receiving this treatment. On the basis of the analysis of these psychological factors involved in clinical provision of acupuncture and in light of prior studies on the placebo effect, the author hypothesizes that acupuncture works through potentiation and modulation of a highly organized and somatotopic network of endogenous opioids that links expectation, attention and body schema. This hypothesis, which focuses on the contextual factors involved in clinical provision of acupuncture, has immediate clinical and experimental implications and will take the acupuncture debate much further forward.