1828 Churchill – Acupuncturation in lumbago and sciatica

This is a TREATISE about the acupuncture technique by Dr. Churchill that was published in 1828 on rheumatic pains as lumbago and sciatica (they could be related to edema of the deep fatty tissue as back mice, he DID NOT MENTION ANY PALPATED NODULES). Unfortunately, despite it presents many medical cases to illustrate the results, it does not show any picture of the exact localization of the punctures.

 He clearly defends that the acupuncture technique works despite he admits he has NO CLUE WHY.


Anyway, they were very clear that the acupuncture was useful in certain rheumatic pains, and clearly stated, “when the parts are hot, or the pain is increased by heat, the remedy is generally useless”.

Cases illustrative of the immediate effects of acupuncturation, in rheumatism, lumbago, sciatica, anomalous muscular diseases, and in dropsy of the cellular tissue; selected from various sources, and intended as an appendix to the author’s treatise on the subject.

Churchill, James Morss.

London : Callow & Wilson, 1828. NLM ID: 101170024 


 He presents an introduction where they try to find out what is the possible explanation of the positive results of this technique. But they just focused on the electrical disturbances.

Some cases are from him and others are letters from other colleagues.

They seem to apply the needles JUST ABOVE THE MUSCLES OF THE PAINFUL SPOTS. They do not mention any other method to find where to puncture.

 He has 2 previous treatises (1921 and 1923).

James Morss Churchill (1796-1863) was a doctor in medicine and a surgeon. He is known to be the first one to publish an article about acupuncture in Britain in 1821.

He is also known for his botanical works.

 On the first part of his treatise, he mentions that some medical colleagues thought that the effect from acupuncture was just by the mental influence over the corporeal sufferings of those whose understandings are weak (i.e. placebo effect).

He has the theory that the effects of the acupuncture are related to the nerves and the electricity of the body. He experienced that by introducing a needle, the patient frequently experiences sensations at a remote distance, and also involuntary muscle twitching is also produced. Also some numbness can be produced and felt by the person that introduces the needle. This suggested to Dr. Churchill that there was a galvanic current.

They performed some experiments with galvanometers and just found out that there was an effect just with the steel needles that become oxidized. The puncture with non-oxidative needles also proved to be effective. Then they thought that current was not necessary to explain the good results of acupuncture.

 Some authors ascribed the attributed acupuncture results to be related to the “diversion of currents“ by the action of the needles. Others had fanciful ideas that the needles act as a kind of irritation like blisters or moxa.

 DR. CHURCHILL ADMITS THAT “I am free to confess that I have still no theory to offer, on the physiological changes produced by the needles…”, but he can state from personal observations of some years, and from information derived from others… that it often effects a CURE sometimes IMMEDIATELY, other times by several days of repetition.


It is especially useful in chronic rheumatism. Lumbago and sciatica with pain of several weeks of duration may disappear in minutes.

It is useful when the part of the body where pain is settled is neither HOT, RED or swelled.


He mainly recommended it “for those injuries of the FIBROUS STRUCTURE of the body which are so often observed to arise (particularly in labouring persons) from violent exertion”.

On this treatise appear many antique techniques -that did not work in his patients- to treat the pain, (usually before Dr. Churchill practiced the acupuncture), such as:

  • Leech therapy
  • Dover’s powder
  • Cupping therapy
  • Blistering therapy
  • Purging therapy
  • Embrocations therapy
  • The galvanic therapy





Churchill mentions that he leaves the needle in certain cases for a few minutes and, in severe cases, for an hour.

He also wants to state that he never observed any “accident” from the acupuncture technique, except for a drop or two of blood. He recommends avoiding vessels or nerves.

From 6 needles that are applied just one may produce certain pain. So it is mainly a painless technique.

 Case 1. Man with 9 months suffering from rheumatism in his hips and thighs, which prevented him from walking. He came to his house by coach. He applied it to 3 or 4 muscles, which were the seat of the disease. He felt sensations of “benumbing”, they were felt at remote points; after a quarter of an hour, he felt himself so relieved. He traveled home on foot. The next day he was free from pain, but the day after it returned. Churchill repeated the technique and introduced a needle into the vasti interni, externi, rectus femoris and ever since he was perfectly well.

 Case 2. Woman fell down; medical men diagnosed her from a partial dislocation of the humeri os of the left side. Leeches were applied, she was blistered and galvanized; frictions with passive motion and to crown the whole, moxa was twice employed. Churchill visited her in 1822 and her health was suffering severely from the paroxysms of pain that tormented her: they usually came in the evening around 5 o’clock and lasted till four in the morning. During that time she obtained no sleep. Her arm was weak. Churchill thought it was a hopeless case. But he introduced the needles into supra scapularis, infra scapularis, deltoid and biceps for twenty minutes, and she was SURPRISINGLY relieved from PAIN. That day, for the first time in months, she slept through the night. The coldness she previously felt in the arm disappeared. On the third evening, the PAROXYSM RETURNED, but in a mitigated degree. It was again dissipated by needles. He performed the acupuncture daily for a fortnight, after a month the pain returned, and after persisting for three weeks in alternate days, she finally got relieved and has remained perfectly well ever since.

Case 3. 43-year-old woman. She suffered rheumatism on her left arm for 4 months. That was nearly useless. There was NO swelling or redness. The pain extended from the nape of the neck to the muscles of the scapula and particularly affected the deltoid and biceps. She tried “shampooing, bathing and frictions” in Brighton. After being punctured by Dr. Churchill in the affected muscles and allowing the needles to remain in situ for 20 minutes, she experienced relief.

 Case 4. 50-year-old man, gardener. Three or four years ago he presented rheumatism as a consequence of exposure to wet and cold. He had pain in the neck, shoulders, back and hips. He used Guiacum and opium for the attacks of pain. Later, the pain fixed in the deltoid and greater pectoral muscles of the left side. He used cupping, blistering and irritants. Then he introduced a needle about midway between the point of the shoulder and the insertion of the deltoid muscle. One inch. The patient became sensitive of relief before the needle had reached more than two-thirds. He left it for 5 minutes. Then he punctured the pectoralis major. The patient remained free of pain.

 Case 5. 45-year-old man. Pain in the back after working in a damp cellar. He could not raise himself into the erect position, and one of his legs dragged after him, almost useless. He had lumbago several times before that recovered in a slow and protracted manner. Churchill introduced 2 needles two inches in depth into the muscles of the loins, which lessened the violence of the pain in 2 minutes. Then, he put 2 more needles into the lumbar mass and pain elapsed. He was skeptical and his first movements were with caution. When he realized he was free from pain, then he moved freely. He returned to work.

 Case 6. Man with violent lumbar pain. The pain awoke him at four o‘clock in the morning. It extended to the intercostal muscles on both sides. And it was so intense that he was with profuse sweat. He punctured a needle in each side of the spine, and then he felt a pain to the upper part of the sacrum. Then he punctured all these painful spots. After the punctures, the patient was enabled to be in different positions. He just felt a sense of constriction in the intercostal muscles when bending. He prescribed 4 grains of Dover‘s powder to be taken every 4 hours. The next morning he had pain 3 inches above the sacrum. Then, after puncture, he felt the pain to the intercostal muscles. Then, he punctured there and pain resolved.

Case 7. Woman, after pushing a table, she felt suddenly attacked of pain in the loins. The lumbar pain extended to the thigh and the calf of the leg. He punctured the lumbar mass of muscles, below the hip and the vastus-externus muscles. While the needles were in, the pain diminished and she was able to move her leg. He repeated the puncture and used plasters with good results.

Case 8. It is a letter from a successful case.

 Case 9 to 18 are letters related to successful acupuncture cases, mainly from LOCAL RHEUMATISM.

Published in November 2018 By Marta Cañis Parera  ORCID iD icon


Cases illustrative of the immediate effects of acupuncturation, in rheumatism, lumbago, sciatica, anomalous muscular diseases, and in dropsy of the cellular tissue; selected from various sources, and intended as an appendix to the author’s treatise on the subject. Churchill, James Morss. London : Callow & Wilson, 1828. NLM ID: 101170024 [Book]