Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Choosing your Acupuncturist

Have you decided to receive or been recommended acupuncture? If its your first time then you probably don’t know much about it , and it may come as a  surprise that there are different styles of acupuncture, with quite different approaches to treatment. In this brief piece I hope to go some way to explaining some of the differences between the various schools.

The most radical differences in approaches is between 
traditional (oriental styles)acupuncture and medical (western) acupuncture. 

Traditional Acupuncture
Traditional acupuncture originated in China , and spread across the whole of East Asia particularly
Japan Korea and Vietnam.  Traditional acupuncturists may also utilize a number of 
adjunctive treatments such as Asian massage therapy (Tuina in China, or Shiatsu in Japan), cupping 
therapy, moxibustion (heat treatment of acupuncture points), and importantly some may be qualified
in traditional herbal medicine and Chinese dietary therapy and various oriental medical exercise 
regimes (Qi Gong etc). 

The following text comes from the British Acupuncture Council website.
The first known book of Chinese Medicine, the Classic of Internal Medicine of the Yellow Emperor, dates back to between the first century BC and the first century AD. All styles of acupuncture currently practiced around the world trace their roots back to this text. 

Without the help of modern scientific equipment, ancient Chinese scholars discovered many now familiar aspects of biomedical science, such as the effect of emotional stress on the immune system. Traditional acupuncturists are no less scientific or sophisticated than western clinicians in their understanding of how the body functions, although to this day they use terminology that reflects Chinese medicine's cultural and historic origins.

In China during the early part of the twentieth century traditional medicine fell out of fashion as symptomatic healthcare treatments were imported from the West along with other cultural influences. Calls by western trained doctors to ban traditional Chinese medicine were rejected by the National Medical Assembly in Shanghai on 17 March 1929. This day is still celebrated every year as Chinese Doctors' Day.

Traditional Chinese medicine remained in the shadow of western medicine until the Long March of 1934-5. Without drugs, anesthetics or surgery vast numbers of sick and wounded soldiers faced death until doctors of traditional Chinese medicine achieved amazing results using acupuncture and other traditional methods of treatment.

From this point on, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and western medicine were practiced side by side in China. Under the People's Republic of China, established in 1948, all branches of TCM were nurtured and encouraged to grow. By 1978, whole hospitals and research departments were devoted to the practice of TCM.

Today traditional acupuncture is practiced all around the world and clinical trials are now confirming its efficacy. More and more people are able to benefit as traditional acupuncture becomes a recognised option within standard healthcare.

Traditional acupuncturists generally train for 3 years, and many colleges offer courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Medical Acupuncture
Medical Acupuncture based entirely on western Scientific medicine. Training and registration is open to those with qualifications in western medicine (Doctors physiotherapists, dentists and nurses etc)
Medical acupuncture is a modern creation and is used predominantly for pain relief, although it might be used for other conditions. You may find other practitioners such as osteopaths, physiotherapists and chiropractors use this treatment and it is often labeled dry needling.
Training in Medical acupuncture is much shorter (in the region of five or six days)

Other Types of Traditional Acupuncture
The main style of of acupuncture practiced is undoubtedly the TCM approach that is taught in modern China. There are other traditional approaches that are popular.

Japanese and Korean
Both countries have developed their own style of acupuncture treatment, traditional medicine..Japanese acupuncture uses different diagnostic techniques, especially abdominal diagnosis, and is often characterized by its gentle needling. Korean acupuncturists take a more constitutional approach to treatment and frequently utilize unique points on the hand.

Auricular or Ear Acupuncture
A recent creation which can be used alongside other acupuncture styles, or on its own. It is often used to treat addiction and is often taught to those in the field of substance abuse. Auricular acupuncture uses zones of the ear which correspond to organs or body parts. Regular acupuncture needles can be used or one might even use small pellets which are taped into the ear for continual stimulation.

5 Element Acupunture
5-elements acupuncture was created in the 1950s by an Englishman, JR Worsley, who had trained in different countries in Asia. It focuses on treating constitutional imbalances, and is said to specialise in psychological and emotional conditions (though these can also be treated by other styles of traditional acupuncture). It is quite different in theory and practice to TCM and as such 5 element acupuncturists rarely practice herbal medicine.

Herbal Medicine
In my own practice a large number of my patients receive herbal medicine. This is beneficial in a number of ways. It allows them to have daily treatment, and is better for supplementing deficiency. So herbal medicine may be a useful adjunct to your treatment regime. 

Choosing an acupuncturist
The most important distinction for the new acupuncture patient is the difference between the traditional and modern styles. 

But what is most important is the practitioners experience,  in terms of length of time in practice and experience of dealing with problems such as yours. You might want to ask what percentage of their practice involves acupuncture. In my opinion if a patient is seeking acupuncture treatment it is important that their practitioner sees themselves as primarily an acupuncturist rather than offering it as a secondary technique.