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We’d love to reinvent the wheel here, but Andrew Vickers and Catherine Zollman do such a great job of explaining TCM Acupuncture. Thank you Andrew Vickers and Catherine Zollman and we give you full credit for your thorough explanation below. Read our summary below or for the full article click the link.

Traditional Acupuncture is based on principles of Chinese, Japanese and/or Korean medicine depending on your practitioners training. This article mostly refers to Chinese style. Accordingly, the human body is controlled by a vital force or energy called “Qi” (pronounced “chee”), which circulates between the organs along channels called meridians.

There are 12 main meridians, and these correspond to 12 major functions or “organs” of the body. Qi energy must flow in the correct strength and quality through each of these meridians for health to be maintained. Acupuncture is thought to stimulate the up or down regulation of Qi along the meridians.

Although the details of practice may differ between individual schools, all traditional acupuncture theory is based in the Daoist concept of yin and yang. Illness is seen in terms of excesses or deficiencies in various systems and treatment is aimed at restoring balance between the systems.

There are many different traditional teaching and schools—for example, Japanese practitioners differ from their Chinese counterparts by using mainly smaller shallower needle insertions.

Traditional acupuncturists complete a detailed, multisystem assessment using traditional observational techniques and palpation. These include examination of the shape, coating, and colour of the tongue; the colour of the face; and the strength, rhythm, and quality of the pulse. Both Western and traditional practitioners may palpate to identify acupuncture points that are tender. Afterwards a treatment plan is discussed and between four and 10 points are selected for needling. 

The needles are usually left in place for 10-30 minutes, although some practitioners needle for only a few seconds or minutes. Needles may be stimulated manually or by a safe low level electrical current (TENS machine). Acupuncture needles are extremely fine and do not hurt in the same way as, say, an injection or vaccination. Patients may even be unaware that a needle has been inserted. Some people experience a sensation called “de Qi”—a sense of heaviness, soreness, or numbness at the point of needling. This is said to be a sign that an acupuncture point has been correctly stimulated. Many patients say that they find acupuncture a relaxing experience.

Traditional acupuncturists may use various adjunctive therapies, including moxibustion (the burning of a herb just above the surface of the skin), massage, cupping, herbal preparations, exercises, and dietary modification.

A typical course of acupuncture treatment for a chronic condition would be six to 12 sessions over a three month period. This might be followed by “top up” treatments every two to six months.

What if I am afraid of needles?

There is an approach called acupressure, where specific physical pressure in placed on the acupuncture energy points with the practitioners hands or they tape seeds to the skin's surface. This technique can have a similar benefit to tradition needle based acupuncture as it creates the pressure needed to stimulate the energy points and their corresponding underlying meridians. 

How does Acupuncture work?

The effects of acupuncture, particularly on pain, are at least partially explainable within a Western physiological model. Acupuncture is known to stimulate specific fibres that ultimately stimulates the spinal cord mediating segmental inhibition of pain impulses. This helps explain why acupuncture needles in one part of the body can affect pain sensation in another region. Acupuncture is also known to stimulate the release of our own internal opioids and other nerve transmitters such as serotonin. An important concept used by acupuncturists is that of the “trigger point.” This is an area of increased sensitivity within a muscle which is said to cause a characteristic pattern of referred pain in a related segment of the body. An example might be tender areas in the muscles of the neck and shoulder which relate to various patterns of headache.This is likely to be another mechanism for acupuncture’s effects, such as in acute pain and in substance misuse.

What does the research say about acupuncture?

There is good research evidence that acupuncture has effects greater than placebo. Randomized trials have found that true acupuncture is more effective in relieving pain than a “sham” technique, such as inserting needles away from true points. Of the numerous studies on nausea, a condition that readily lends itself to placebo controlled trials, almost all show that stimulating true acupuncture points is more effective that stimulating false points. Studies showing that acupuncture can affect animals under anaesthetic which provides more evidence that the effects probably cannot be explained purely in Western psychological terms.

Certain aspects of traditional acupuncture have been researched with some positive evidence some research to support the usefulness but the explanation continues to challenge Western Theories. In one study, for example, blinded assessment of the tenderness of points on the ear had high agreement with the true location of chronic pain in distant parts of the body. Changes in the electrical conductivity of acupuncture points associated with a particular organ have also been recorded in patients with corresponding conventional diseases. There are no known anatomical or physiological explanations for these observations.

Research results on the effectiveness of acupuncture for specific conditions?

STRONG evidence for:

  • pain conditions

  • migraines/headaches 

  • postoperative pain 

  • substance misuse 

  • nausea

  • stroke


MINIMAL evidence for:

  • asthma

  • hay fever

How much training does an Acupuncturist take?

Professional acupuncturists train for up to 3-4 years full time and may acquire university degrees on completion of their training. Some complete further training in the principles and practice of Chinese herbalism. All accredited acupuncture training courses include conventional anatomy, physiology, pathology, and diagnosis. Research and audit skills are also taught.

On the other hand, Medical Professionals/Physiotherapist who perform medical/physio acupuncture generally have fewer training hours in acupuncture techniques. Usually they complete a course of several weekends where they learn a small range of simple techniques and a limited number of acupuncture points. Many of the Medical/Physio health professionals who practise acupuncture treat using a more physiological and anatomical approach to acupuncture by selecting points that correspond with structures such as peripheral nerve junctions, trigger points and general pain relieving points. They also typically use acupuncture as another tool in their treatment tool box as they have other techniques to select from.

How to choose your Professional to get the best results?

Many people select an Acupuncturist as their entire training is based around the practice of acupuncture. Acupuncturist will take a more holistic approach.

Other people select a Physiotherapist or Medical Doctor, trained in acupuncture, because their extended benefits plan only covers these professionals. Physiotherapists or Doctors focus more on an anatomical approach to acupuncture.

INCONCLUSIVE evidence for:

  • fatigue

  • digestive disorders

  • anxiety



  • smoking cessation

  • obesity

  • tinnitus

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