Traditional Chinese Medicine: More than just acupuncture

Acupuncturist & Practitioner of Chinese Medicine – same thing?

Not exactly. When I meet new people and they ask what I do, I tell them that I practice Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).  Sometimes I get a blank stare back and explain more – “I use acupuncture, Chinese herbs, dietary therapies and other traditional Chinese medicine modalities to treat health issues.”  Once the word ‘acupuncture’ comes out, a wave of recognition usually crosses over their face and a common remark follows, “Oh I hate needles!”  But TCM is more than just acupuncture needles – and with some conditions, acupuncture may not be used at all.

Acupuncture needles are small!
Acupuncture needles are small!

Traditional Chinese Medicine is a broad and comprehensive medical system, whereas acupuncture is just one way to treat many issues (see this WHO report from 1996 for a list of health issues acupuncture has been proven to treat). A licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.) in Minnesota is licensed by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, and the description of an L.Ac.’s scope of practice from the 2013 Minnesota statutes (147B) follows:

147B, Subd. 3. Acupuncture practice.

“Acupuncture practice” means a comprehensive system of health care using Oriental medical theory and its unique methods of diagnosis and treatment. Its treatment techniques include the insertion of acupuncture needles through the skin and the use of other biophysical methods of acupuncture point stimulation, including the use of heat, Oriental massage techniques, electrical stimulation, herbal supplemental therapies, dietary guidelines, breathing techniques, and exercise based on Oriental medical principles.

Confusion often arises because anyone who practices the traditional medicines of Asia are labelled licensed acupuncturists and this can be a vague description of what a practitioner may or may not be trained to offer as treatment.  There are many “acupuncturists” – some whose training includes the wider scope of TCM and some whose training consists only of acupuncture. The latter group might include chiropractors, physical therapists and MDs whose training tapped into just a portion of the complete system of diagnosis and treatment involved in Chinese Medicine.  They may focus on a very specific area of acupuncture, like a chiropractor who uses acupuncture to supplement their pain practice.  These practitioners typically have no background in prescribing herbal therapies – something I incorporate into at least 75% of my treatment plans. I think it’s important to distinguish between practitioners who are licensed acupuncturists and those whose training includes other aspects of Chinese or other traditional Asian medicine disciplines. And as for the needles, they’re actually about as fine as a strand of hair and most only get inserted to a depth of about 1-2 mm! A lot of my patients report little to no sensation from needle insertion.

Links for further information about Chinese Medicine:

How to Thrive in the Modern World – NHFC’s own ebook describing the basics of Chinese medicine, how it works and what to expect from treatment.

A link to the World Health Organization report on acupuncture:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *