In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is believed that blocked energy along meridians or channels can cause disease. Medical Acupuncture diagnosis and assesses a patient according to the physical body or western pathologies, and treats using acupuncture needles to affect either the brain, hormones, and neurotransmitters or make a physical change locally. A diagnosis is often made a physical exam and the patient often allows us to communicate with their Primary Care Provider so we can understand what their X-rays, MRIs or blood tests look like to better understand their conditions. Functional Medicine is used to help determine where dysfunction is on a chemical and physical level.
Medical Acupuncture still uses the same acupuncture needles that are used in TCM. However, sometimes smaller or bigger gauge needles are used for a certain therapeutic purpose, or shorter or longer needles are used.
Thicker, bigger needles are used more for pain. They help stimulate the sensory cortex in the back of the brain via A Alpha and Delta nociceptive afferent nerve fibers. This can help stimulate more endogenous opioids (pain relieving cells) to that area. Smaller needles on the other hand are better at simulating the limbic system and the front part of the brain via smaller C nociceptive nerve fibers. The small needles are better for hormone problems, emotional imbalances and other automatic issues (breathing, digestion, heart rate, sleep...)
Shorter needles are used when a dermatome is attempted to be stimulated. Dermatomes are sections of skin that are innervated by certain nerves from the spine. If someone has skin problems or a pain pattern that follows that certain nerve innervating the dermatome, a shorter needle is inserted.
A longer needle might be used to stimulate the myotome or sclerotome - the muscle level or joint capsule. A long needle, for example, might be a better option if someone has pain the the piriformis muscle which is a deep muscle in the buttocks. A long needle can be inserted to reach that muscle for pain relief or trigger point dry needling.
In TCM acupuncture points typically are specified and follow acupuncture meridians or channels. In Medical Acupuncture, there is less emphasis on traditional acupuncture points, and more what kind of needling is being applied.
If the needle is inserted slowly and tapped in, the patient might have a better chance for short-term pain relief immediately Whereas, if the needle is inserted rapidly with little to no pinprick feeling, the patient has a better chance at long-term relief and results.
Medical acupuncture also focuses on exactly which muscle isn't functioning properly and inserting the needle into the motor point of that muscle which helps that muscle function better.
Dry needling trigger point therapy is used often in Medical Acupuncture. A muscle knot is found and the needle is inserted in a specific manner to release the muscle knot. Often we use an electrical simulation device to help further break up the muscle knot.
Most of these techniques are not employed in Traditional Chinese Acupuncture.
You often hear that acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine is a "Holistic" therapy that gets to the core problem to fix disease indefinitely. This notion is false. Traditional acupuncture uses outdated, unproven diagnostic methods such as pulse diagnosis, tongue inspection, auricular inspection, abdominal palpation and others. While these methods certainly are not worthless and can point us in the right direction, without a universal approach of diagnosis, disease cannot be resolved.
A prime example of this might be headaches. A TCM practitioner might diagnose this patient with "Liver Yang Rising" according to tongue and pulse and insert needles along the liver channel which runs predominately along the inside of the legs. The patient might temporarily feel better, but the headaches are never resolved. This type of acupuncture can help stimulate endogenous opioids and local anti-inflammatories.
A medical acupuncture practitioner might do a physical exam on this patient and find trigger points along the sub occipital obliquus capitus inferior muscles. Upon Functional Lab Analysis it is determine the patient has very low sodium levels (hyponatremia) which can also cause headaches. The medical acupuncture treatment then would consist of needling into the trigger points in the neck, and along the spine to effect the liver, kidneys and heart directly. Diet is modified, exercises and stretches might be given and other techniques such as Kinesiology Tape might be used to help facilitate muscle balance.
Although TCM can be very effective, most times it is not comprehensive enough to treat the true cause of disease.
NOT ALL ACUPUNCTURISTS OR MEDICAL DOCTORS WHO PERFORM ACUPUNCTURE ARE TRAINED IN MEDICAL ACUPUNCTURE.
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