There are many styles of acupuncture practiced around the world, both traditional and modernised. These styles are complete diagnostic and treatment approaches, not just specific techniques. Here are some of the styles you may come across:
TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine
This is the style of Chinese medicine most commonly taught and practiced in China today.
During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s and 70’s the practice of Chinese medicine was standardised, with anything considered too ‘spiritual’ removed. The system was also partly adapted to fit better with the Western medical model. The new system was named “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (or TCM), which can be a bit misleading, so for clarity the practice of medicine as it existed prior to the Cultural Revolution is now often referred to as “Classical Chinese Medicine”.
The main diagnostic framework of TCM is known as Eight Principles (these are full/empty, hot/cold, internal/external and yin/yang) and also focuses on identifying ‘patterns of disharmony’: combinations of certain signs and symptoms. Patterns are then treated using certain acupuncture points and combinations of points. This style is particularly suited to treating physical (rather than emotional) conditions.
Five Element Acupuncture
The Five Elements (or Five Phases) is a theoretical framework drawn from classical Daoism (the source of Chinese medicine). Five Element Acupuncture uses this model to diagnose and treat deep and even constitutional imbalances in a person. There is more of an emphasis on treating at an emotional or ‘spirit’ level than with TCM.
The elements are associated with a wide range of phenomena, from seasons and directions to colours, sounds, organs, emotions and virtues, and they create and control each other through various cycles. In many people, one of these elements stands out as being particularly deficient or excessive, so treating this element (or those that affect it most strongly) is often important and can have wide-reaching effects on the body and emotions.
There are many other traditional or classical styles of acupuncture, including Stems and Branches, I Ching Acupuncture, Balance Methods and Japanese Acupuncture styles.
Due to the volume of good quality research evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture, it is increasingly being adopted as a technique by doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths and other health professionals. Medical Acupuncture is a modern development where acupuncture needles are used in the context of a Western / conventional medical approach. The aim is to release myofascial trigger points and stimulate the nervous system, often using classical acupuncture points. This kind of acupuncture is sometimes called ‘Dry Needling’. Dry needling courses are sometimes very short, relying on the anatomical knowledge gained from other training, so these courses can be controversial with concerns about safety. The scope of treatment using this approach is generally restricted to musculoskeletal pain, post-operative pain and nausea.
We have found that different styles of acupuncture seem to suit different people and different conditions, so we tend to use a variety of different styles. We were both initially trained in an integrated approach combining TCM and Five Element Acupuncture, and find these styles complement each other well. We may also sometimes use a Balance Method approach and myofascial trigger points for musculoskeletal conditions.
We tend to use relatively few needles, and often incorporate other techniques such as massage, cupping or moxibustion. We also often give advice on diet and lifestyle from a Chinese medical perspective, tailored to the person based on their diagnosis.