Introduction to Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

If you are interested in general information about acupuncture, styles of treatment and reasons for seeing an acupuncturist, the following information may be helpful.

Why should I see an Acupuncturist?

Acupuncture is a safe and effective holistic medicine backed by more than two thousand years of practice and research. It is practiced worldwide both as a primary and adjunctive treatment for a wide range of conditions. While there are somewhat standard treatment protocols for many conditions, the clinical success of acupuncture is related - at least in part - to the wide range of diagnostic signs and symptoms which are taken into effect when looking at an imbalance. For a condition such as arthritis effecting the knees, an acupuncturist may look at your tongue, check your pulse, ask about your diet and lifestyle, palpate your spine, etc. This range of diagnostic information allows acupuncture practitioners to develop a treatment strategy that is unique to you and your experience of a particular condition.

What styles of Acupuncture are practiced?

While there are many schools of acupuncture and oriental medicine worldwide which train people in the general theory and clinical applications of acupuncture, the actual practice of acupuncture is still an art form. Many accomplished practitioners such as Tom Tam, Kiiko Matsumoto and Richard Tan, for example, have developed their own personal styles of acupuncture based on their clinical experience and studies. The styles that we are discussing here, however, are those which constitute the main groupings of practitioners. This is useful as some styles of acupuncture may be more preferable to you for one reason or another, or one may even be more appropriate for the types of issues that you are dealing with.

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM):
    TCM is the general term for the style of acupuncture which most acupuncturists are trained in, at least initially, and the style which most people practice. As this is the most foundational grouping there is a broad range of techniques used and treatment protocols. Most recent clinical studies regarding acupuncture usually use treatment techniques a/or protocols based on TCM Theory.
  • Japanese Acupuncture:
    Japanese Acupuncture is a style of acupuncture which requires additional training above and beyond general TCM Theory and Practice. The techniques within Japanese acupuncture are generally aimed at using the least amount of stimulation to create the greatest effect. To contrast with TCM, Japanese acupuncture typically uses thinner needles, less points and less stimulation by using more shallow needle insertions even to the point of just touching the needle to the skin. Additionally, while not entirely unique to Japanese acupuncture, practitioners tend to use the abdomen as a diagnostic tool more often than other styles of acupuncture.
  • Korean Acupuncture:
    Korean Acupuncture is another broad categorization which in actual practice includes some unique techniques and applications as well as techniques and theory from both TCM and Japanese acupuncture. In general there is more use of the Five Element Theory and an emphasis on your body type or constitution when developing treatments. Korean Hand Acupuncture is a popular subset of Korean Acupuncture where the hands are considered a microsystem of the entire body. Within this system you may diagnose and treat conditions anywhere in the body by treating just the hands. This is similar in theory to Auricular Acupuncture.
  • Five Element Acupuncture:
    Five Element Acupuncture is a speciality practice which can be similar in needling style to Japanese Acupuncture but tends to concentrate more on the psycho-spiritual nature of a person to heal disease - including physical disease. This style of medicine was popularized by the late J.R. Worsley and requires significant training outside of general TCM theory. Most practitioners will have gone to a school that specializes in Five Element acupuncture or at least have done post-graduate study at one.
  • Auricular Acupuncture:
    Auricular Acupuncture may be considered both an adjunctive technique and a speciality area. Auricular acupuncture uses the ears as a microcosm, or representation, of the entire body. By diagnosing with and treating the ears, one can treat any conditions anywhere in the body, including psychological issues. One area where Auricular acupuncture is used extensively is in drug and alcohol detox centers where the NADA Protocol is used to help people deal with addictions.

What conditions can Acupuncture treat?

People may see an acupuncturist for almost any condition, from Cancer to Shoulder Pain. Some of the more commonly treated conditions are:

  • Pain anywhere in the body including headaches, migraines and trauma
  • Psychological related conditions such as Depression, Anxiety and Insomnia
  • Menstrual Issues such as PMS, amenorrhea, irregular menstruation, etc.
  • Asthma a/or Allergy issues

For more information about a particular condition, you may want to read our Conditions Treated With Acupuncture section for real world examples of the diagnostic information and treatment points that might be used to treat a particular condition.  For a technical explanation of how acupuncture treats disease, you can read "How Does Acupuncture Work?"

What will my first Acupuncture treatment be like?

In general people find acupuncture to be an incredibly relaxing experience, even for those who have some initial hesitation about needles. Our First Acupuncture Treatment page contains indepth information about your initial treatment. In general your first treatment involves quite a bit of discussion, as the practitioner gathers as much information as possible to clearly understand and diagnose your issues from an oriental medicine viewpoint. The needling during the first treatment may be limited so you can become accustomed to the experience and the practitioner can see how you respond.

Where can I find an Acupuncturist?

Our site has an acupuncturists directory which contains contact information and practice details for many acupuncturists around the world. If there are no practitioners in your area, you can try contacting an acupuncture college near you to see if they have a list of alumni practitioners. Additionally, your local phone book is often helpful.

Resources for further study

There are many resources which discuss acupuncture at varying levels. Our research section includes a comprehensive list of the main texts and websites related to acupuncture and other forms of eastern medicine. The following introductory books are suitable for people interested in learning more about acupuncture: