Isn’t All Acupuncture The Same?
Patients frequently ask me how the so-called traditional acupuncture I practice is different from that given by, for example a chiropractor. And some are unaware that there is a difference. This confusion is understandable, after all the word ‘acupuncture’ (zhēnjiǔ in Chinese) simply describes the act of ‘puncturing with a needle’. Surely it is a matter of inserting a needle in the right spot?
But how do we know which is the right place? It has been frequently observed that all systems of medicine are subject to change over time by political, economic and social pressures. This might prompt us to ask about the philosophy underlying any practice of needle insertion? From whom and where do the key ideas originate? How do we view the patient and the world in which she lives and interacts with? What is the treatment context? How do we assemble the information we have about the patient into a meaningful diagnosis?
According to the British Acupuncture Council,
‘traditional acupuncture is a healthcare system based on ancient principles which go back nearly two thousand years. It has a very positive model of good health and function, and looks at pain and illness as signs that the body is out of balance’.
What Happens In A Treatment?
One way to appreciate the standout factors of traditional acupuncture is to observe what happens in a typical treatment session. Using all the senses, the practitioner may look at the patient’s tongue, feel her pulse, listen for subtle undertones in her voice or observe the colours on her face. Details, such as knots of veins on the ankles, dry skin on the arms or overall body shape may be considered. Even the brightness of the eyes is an important clue to inner health.
Questioning about symptoms is often detailed. Is your cough explosive or feeble? What does the phlegm look like? What makes it better, worse?
I recently came across a lady who received acupuncture from a chiropractor to ease a hip problem. She was advised that she would probably experience nausea after the treatment, which she did. I remarked to her that very few of my patients ever encounter this, and illustrates the ‘whole system’ approach of traditional acupuncture. If detailed investigation revealed digestive issues, this would be factored into the diagnosis and treatment would be tailored accordingly. By the way the chiropractor’s treatment did effectively cure the hip problem.
And this leads us to another key point. People receiving traditional acupuncture often report that other conditions will resolve whilst they are being treated for their main complaint.
And finally, traditional acupuncture has been developed for centuries as part of a connected system, and so acupuncture may well be prescribed alongside treatments such as moxibustion (warming treatment), guasha (friction massage), tuina (Chinese massage and stretching), qigong (breathing exercises), cupping therapy or Chinese dietary therapy.
More information on traditional acupuncture can be found on the British Acupuncture Council website.