Acupuncture: An Umbrella Term

Contrary to common belief, Acupuncture is not an all encompassing noun but rather an umbrella term for many different styles that involve the use of needles to penetrate the skin. This article will list a few of the more common systems of Acupuncture while also listing their intended use in a clinical setting.

The term ‘Acupuncture’ is believed to be derived from the Latin ‘acus’ meaning needle and ‘punctum‘ meaning (you guessed it) puncture. As such it was adopted as the umbrella term for the use of any small needle inserted into the skin and muscle (not to be mistaken with venipuncture which is akin to syringes used to draw blood or inject fluid).

Before we go further into the different styles of acupuncture, it is important to explore the idea of interpretation. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine often have a fabled reputation for getting results where other forms of medicine fail to do so. This has been attributed to many things including placebo, luck and even witch craft. As non-scientific, non-medical and entertaining as each of those reasons are respectively – the simple answer is that practitioners of Chinese Medicine view health concerns from a different frame work. If you see a red flower and call it a rose, a Chinese speaker could see the same flower and call it hong hua; both are terms to describe a red flower and both are correct. Medicine of all forms evolves in leaps and bounds when not restrained by preconceived notions.

Moving onto the different styles of acupuncture a patient may encounter in a clinical setting:

Zang Fu Acupuncture – Considered the classical form of acupuncture that most tertiary providers teach students, this style is based on the signs and symptoms that appear when there is disharmony between any of the organs. An example of this can be seen in how the symptoms of IBS become aggravated when a patient is under high stress; this is seen as Liver invading Spleen. A well balanced style of acupuncture that is useful for addressing any complaints.

Tung Acupuncture – A style of acupuncture that comes from the Tung family lineage. It divides the body into specific numbered segments and is very useful for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain. This style adheres to getting a patient almost instantaneous relief from pain if done correctly.

Tan Acupuncture – Also known as the balance method. Tan style has practitioners using similar visual body parts to address ones that are already in disrepair. Such as treating the right elbow to address an injury on the left elbow. Useful for addressing issues of pain when the site cannot be accessed directly.

Japanese Acupuncture – A more gentle approach to acupuncture that uses foundation theories from Zang Fu Acupuncture (mentioned above) and Micro System Acupuncture (mentioned below). Needles are inserted much more superficially and there is a greater emphasis on the palpation of the abdomen to reinforce the practitioner’s diagnosis. Great for assisting with adrenal fatigue and immunity issues.

Micro System Acupuncture – This entry encompasses ear, scalp, wrist and hand acupuncture. These schools see the above mentioned body parts as visually containing the entire body and by stimulating specific parts mapped out on these areas, you stimulate that particular part of the body. An honorable mention to the Korean Hand Acupuncture system that has become popular in recent years, also known as Korean Hand Therapy. Useful in the ability to leave small needles (properly covered) in place to continue the therapy once the patient leaves.

For practitioners of Acupuncture, the above explanations would not due justice to the complexity of each system but this article is about educating patients and as such I have decided to keep it as simplistic as possible. There are also other systems of acupuncture not listed such as the five elements, clock system and many others.

I would also like to point out that though I have singled out each system, there is often a lot of overlay. Many of the new systems in use have been mentioned, practiced and evolved from the earliest medical texts in acupuncture. We now also know that much of the way acupuncture works is based on the neuroscience theory of the human homunculus which states that every part of the body is mapped out on the brain and since the acupuncture points sit on the body, this by proxy creates the link between acupuncture points and the brain.

Now of course a big question that may come about is – what about dry needling? In theory of context, one could consider it a form of acupuncture (a small needle inserted into skin and muscle) but in application there is a big difference. If we were to use the withdrawing of money from an ATM as a metaphor, it may become clearer.

Setting the outcome of withdrawing money from an ATM you have two options:

  1. Person 1 (practitioner) use a card (tool), enters the pin number (knowledge) and withdraws the exact amount required (outcome).
  2. Person 2 (practitioner) uses a 4WD (tool), rams into the ATM at top speed (lack of knowledge) and escapes with all the money possible (outcome).

Here we see the outcome is the same. If the end goal is to get money from the ATM then both practitioners have achieved their outcome however the question is – how much damage has been done to the body to achieve this outcome?

A registered acupuncturist has a minimum of 4 years supervised university training and is registered with the government (via AHPRA). Anyone who practices dry needling (and yes, anyone can just do the course – no background training required) does one weekend of training with no registration or government regulation.

Acupuncture has come a long way in its long course of development and will continue to do so with the advent of evidence based research. I hope in reading this article you have become more aware as to why there are so many different styles of acupuncture and why each practitioner you visit seems to have a different variation on the treatment.

Our clinic not only hopes to assist you with your health needs but also to help the general public understand more about Chinese medicine. If you have any concerns or simply wish to ask a question about this form of medicine, please feel free to contact us.

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