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Research topics of acupuncture have changed from skeptics to molecular networks in 30 years

Journal name: Traditional Chinese Medicine

Manuscript title: Bibliometric analysis of acupuncture research through the Web of

Science database from 1990 to 2019


This study summarizes the trend of development of acupuncture research from 1990 to 2019 and compares the main research categories and hotspots in different time periods: 1990–1999, 2000–2009 and 2010–2019.


Dating from before 168 B.C.E., the earliest existing acupuncture literature Moxibustion Classic of Foot and Arm Eleven Channels and Moxibustion Classic of Yin Yang Eleven Channels (unknown author) discussed the method of locating the 11 meridians in the human body, moxibustion methods, and indications for these meridians. There are many studies on acupuncture theory and clinical treatment in the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (unknown author, from 99 B.C.E. to 26 B.C.E.), which marks the formation of

acupuncture theory. In 1979, the World Health Organization recommended acupuncture and moxibustion treatments for 43 kinds of diseases. On October 24, 2018, the United States signed the H.R.6 Act and included acupuncture and moxibustion in its federal medical insurance program.


Background: The main points of focus of bibliometric analysis of acupuncture treatment of diseases include pain (headache, low back pain), insomnia, and knee osteoarthritis, for example. In this paper, we analyze the frontiers, hotspots, and research trends of acupuncture over the past 30 years and compare them for each of three 10-year


Methods: All the studies on acupuncture research in three different periods (1990-1999, 2000-2009,2010-2019) were collected from the Web of Science database. The evolution of the research, hotspots, and trends in acupuncture were explored intuitively by analyzing the frequency, betweenness centrality, and subject word clustering of the three periods.

Results: (1) 1990-1999, the main content relating to research was the mechanism of

research of acupuncture treatment of pain. Naloxone was the high-frequency subject word, and centrality included, for example, the spinal cord, enkephalin, smoking cessation, and detoxification. The results of keyword cluster analysis showed that the main research content included capsaicin-induced neurogenic edema, chemical dependency treatment, afferent fiber, and sufferers from xerostomia. (2) 2000-2009, during this stage, the

frequency of keywords appeared in new research content such as randomized controlled trials of acupuncture and low back pain, but pain still dominated the main research content. From the perspective of intermediary centrality, along with the rise in randomized controlled trials, there were many important meta-analyses, as well as the management of acupuncture treatment. The main elements of the keyword cluster analysis included, for example, systematic review, randomized controlled pilot study, add-on therapy, brief overview, and ovarian morphology. (3) 2010-2019, during this period, compared with the previous two stages, there was increased frequency of keywords, a growth in clinical randomized controlled trials, and distribution of centrality was evident in the emergence of

acupuncture in care, osteoarthritis treatment, and breast cancer research. The keyword clustering covered, for example, neural specificity, inflammatory reaction, chronic pain, sleep pattern, and consort statement.


This article summarizes the trend of development of acupuncture from 1990 to 2019 and compares the main research categories and hotspots in each of three different 10-year periods within this span, thereby helping elucidate the research direction within the field.

Keywords: Acupuncture, Research categories, Research hotspots, Pain, Naloxone, Bibliometric analysis

Figure 1. Cluster analysis of keywords in acupuncture research from 2000 to 2009. Nodes of different colors represent different clusters, and the combination of symbols and numbers represents the keywords’ study of similar categories; different color block areas represent different research categories, different keywords constitute these categories, and the size of the color block area has no special meaning.

Comments by me:

The trend of acupuncture research in the past 30 years has advanced from skeptical confirmation to clinical trials and mechanism of molecular networks, which also partly explains why Medicare covers acupuncture after decades of hesitancy. Facts will show importance of acupuncture in healthcare.


Yan-Qing, Zhao, Li Huang. Bibliometric analysis of acupuncture research through the Web of Science database from 1990 to 2019. Traditional Medicine Research; [Auckland] Vol. 6, Iss. 1, (2021): 9. DOI:10.12032/TMR20201023203

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