Is all acupuncture the same?


As part of Acupuncture Awareness Week we have been exploring the historical, philosophical and cultural underpinning of both traditional and western acupuncture.

Over the past 30 years acupuncture in the western world has become a widely accessible and popular mode of treatment, but do all acupuncture treatments share the same principles, history, philosophy and culture?

A brief history…

Traditional acupuncture is a healthcare system based on ancient principles that date back nearly 2000 years. It is one of the oldest established forms of healthcare in the world and as a result of this history, the techniques used by traditional acupuncturists have been developed and refined for thousands of years.

Acupuncture was first brought to the west in the 17th century, however due to a clash in paradigms between the east and the west it was not widely accepted. Chinese medicine is based on holistic patterns and non-reductionist thinking as opposed to western medicine that is built upon more scientific reductionist theory. For many years, western sceptics argued that evidence for acupuncture was simply anecdotal and lacked scientifically validated evidence.  This perception however seems to have changed over the past few decades, resulting in the development of a western modality of medical acupuncture. Due to this diversity of underlying principles, it is important to point out that there are of course some vast differences between the practice of traditional acupuncture and western medical acupuncture.

Whilst western based acupuncture treatments are centred on a more symptom orientated diagnosis, traditional acupuncture sees illness and disease as a sign that the body and/or mind is out of balance. This approach is individualistic, responding to the exact pattern and degree of disharmony unique to the patient. People with a wide range of illnesses can be treated using this mode of acupuncture with the focus being on the overall well-being of the patient as well as treating classified symptoms. The skill lies in diagnosing the underlying pattern of disharmony as opposed to focusing diagnosis on the symptoms presented. The body’s motivating energy or qi is fundamental to the traditional acupuncturist and good health therefore is determined by qi flowing smoothly and in a balanced manner through the body and mind.

Some key differences between Western and Traditional Acupuncture:

  1. Training; Traditional acupuncturists usually train at degree-level, for around 3,600 hours, whilst clinical practitioners such as Physiotherapists, GP’s, Chiropractors and Osteopaths tend to train for up to 80 hours.
  2. Number of acupuncture points; Traditional acupuncturists cover 365 points as well as articular points whilst western clinical practitioners study 30-40 points.
  3. Western/Eastern Sciences, philosophy and culture; Traditional acupuncturists study many aspects of traditional Chinese medicine along with anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and other western models of disease, symptoms and medicine. Western clinical practitioners on the other hand only study within a western medical framework, with little  study of eastern sciences, philosophy or culture.
  4. Holistic approach; Traditional acupuncture is used as an effective treatment for most human conditions as the ‘root and manifestation of disease’ is treated. Within western medicine acupuncture is primarily used as a pain management tool addressing the patient’s symptoms in a more atomistic manner.

Acupuncture Awareness Week runs from 2-8 March 2015.

Amelia Wilkinson

Health Administrative Intern and Dance Science Graduate Intern

Contributed by Kevin Grey, Acupuncturist at Trinity Laban Health

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