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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Is acupuncture “stimulation” a misnomer? A case for using the term “blockade”

Morry Silberstein

Author Affiliations

Faculty of Science & Engineering, Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, Perth, WA 6845, Australia

BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:68  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-68

Published: 25 March 2013



The term used most frequently in the literature to describe acupuncture’s effects is “stimulation” which may be used to describe either (or both) the direct stimulus applied to a needle as well as putative stimulation of the nervous system, despite little published evidence describing what is actually being stimulated. In contrast, recent published work has suggested that acupuncture may, in fact be inhibitory at a peripheral level, acting by blocking neural transmission.


The suggestion that acupuncture exerts its effects through peripheral neural blockade is supported by recent evidence explaining related techniques including low level laser and capsaicin at acupoints. It also explains acupuncture’s effect on painful and non-painful conditions and both Eastern and Western concepts of acupuncture. There is a need for additional work to elucidate acupuncture’s mechanism of action, and the suggestion that it acts through neural blockade should prompt further research in this direction.


If the term “blockade” were applied to acupuncture, this would, likely, be expected to promote this minimally invasive technique, and, potentially, bring it into mainstream clinical practice for pain management as well as other therapeutic applications.

Acupuncture; Neural blockade; Capsaicin; Low level laser therapy; Alpha-2 adrenoceptor