Acupuncture is becoming more widely accepted as an effective means of treatment within the traditional health care system. According to an American Hospital Association survey, forty-two percent of hospitals offering complementary and alternative medicine, provide acupuncture as an outpatient service.
Recent research regarding acupuncture treatment is also gaining recognition amongst health care practitioners. A 2017 study that tracked brain and nerve changes, refutes a commonly repeated claim that acupuncture's effectiveness is the result of a placebo effect. Another study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2016, found acupuncture to be more effective for pain relief than morphine.
As more patients seek acupuncture treatment for illness, prevention, pain management, or mental and emotional well being, it is important to consider which type of acupuncture is needed. There are different "styles" of acupuncture such as Korean acupuncture, Japanese-style acupuncture, or traditional Chinese acupuncture. Each type has a foundation in traditional Chinese medicine, and all are very effective. However since acupuncture evolved in different regions of Asia, the different styles reflect the culture and history of each region.
Acupuncture professionals look to China for their standard traditional model. In China, acupuncturists use big needles with a greater depth of insertion. They are trying to stimulate what is called the "De Qi" sensation, or "arrival of Qi", better know as life energy flowing through the body.
A Chinese acupuncturist will try to enhance that sensation by gently rotating the needle. If needed, a larger needle will be used so patients will feel the needle when it is inserted. This pressure heightens the De Qi response. Recent research, including these 2013 and 2014 studies, show that the De Qi sensation usually leads to a better outcome after treatment.
In comparison to the Chinese, the Japanese use thinner needles and a gentler technique with shallow insertion. Their diagnostic assessment relies heavily on palpation of the abdomen, back, and various pulses along the meridian system. In fact, Japanese style acupuncture is often called 'meridian acupuncture' for this reason.
Western medicine moved into Japan much earlier than it did in other Asian countries through Dutch influence in the 1600s. Because of this, Japan has always had more of an interest in western medicine than oriental medicine. Japan even prohibited oriental medicine under Emperor Meiji in the late 1800s. Later on, acupuncture was finally allowed once again, but only as an occupation for the blind. This is why their style developed diagnostic methods that relied on palpation rather than sight - feeling the abdomen, back, and meridian pulses rather than looking at visual characteristics of the tongue, eyes, or fingernails. It is also why they use a lot of acupressure, as this technique was very adaptable to blind practitioners.
Additionally, Japanese acupuncturists often use Okyu, or "Thread Moxibustion" to add to the soothing nature of Japanese acupuncture. Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy in which dried plant material (derived from the mugwort plant) are burned very close to the patient’s skin. The ‘thread moxa’ cone or punk sizes are usually very small, ranging from the size of a thread, sesame seed or grain of rice.
In Japan, moxibustion has been extensively developed as a distinct practice over the ages. In fact, the original Chinese characters denoting “Zhen-jiǔ” literally translate as “acupuncture” (zhēn) and “moxibustion” (jiǔ). These two complementary techniques together form one fundamental approach to health.
While diagnosis in Korean acupuncture involves a full constitutional analysis much like in traditional Chinese medicine, the application of acupuncture needles is different.
Korean acupuncture focuses on the extremities like the hand or ear. Most of the standard acupuncture protocols in Korea use only four needles. In fact, Korean acupuncture is often called 'four-needle' technique (or Sa-am technique) for this reason.
The four needles are split two and two - two needles sedate or reduce excess Qi in one organ system, while two other needles tonify or increase Qi in a second organ system. This balancing concept is the foundation behind four-needle acupuncture.
National University's Approach
At NUHS, our foundation is rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), as are all major styles. While we provide a strong basis in TCM, we also expose our students to other styles, which are beneficial for their future career. You can learn more about the field of acupuncture and our program by visiting our website.
Interested in learning how to begin your career in acupuncture? Check out our resource guide for helpful insights and professional guidance.