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Why was acupuncture important?

Acupuncture is arguably one of the more popular alternative therapies, after dietary supplements and chiropractic. The mystical explanations for its supposed benefits, such as balancing the mysterious energy force known as Ch’i, are not generally accepted in the mainstream medical community. But there are a fair number of healthcare providers who believe acupuncture has meaningful clinical benefits, and some individuals make attempts to explain these in more conventional scientific terms. In my opinion, the evidence is still most consistent with the position that acupuncture is an elaborate placebo that affects how people feel without truly altering the state of their physical health. But there is room for debate about the effects of sticking needles in patients.

Regardless of the issue of whether or not acupuncture is a beneficial therapy in some instances, however, many of the claims made to promote it are clearly exaggerated or simply false. In the veterinary field, for example, it is often claimed that acupuncture has been used to treat animals for thousands of years. Yet a close look at the actual historical record shows this to be untrue. And while acupuncture is more popular than some other alternative therapies, its popularity is routinely exaggerated, and conventional therapies are preferred even in China and other places where acupuncture has been a generally accepted practice for some time.