Eastern Versus Western Acupuncture
If you’re interested in trying to acupuncture for chronic pain, you should know that there are two broad types of practitioners.
First, they should be trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture and should have their certification accredited by a recognized professional body like the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Secondly, the school of acupuncturists practice Contemporary Medical Acupuncture based on western medical principles rather than balancing qi in the body. Often these practitioners are physiotherapists (physical therapists), naturopaths, or chiropractors who have received additional certification.
How Do You Decide Which Type of Practitioner to See?
TCM acupuncturists will treat from a whole-body perspective and may offer new insights or see connections other medical professionals have not. Contemporary medical acupuncturists are probably most effective at treating localized problems.
For example, my physiotherapy sessions have become more effective at relieving neck and low back muscles spasms since my therapist began incorporating acupuncture. My TCM acupuncturist has helped me reduce my overall pain and fatigue.
I have to add that TCM acupuncturists are much more adept at inserting needles painlessly — after all, this is their area of expertise!
In my own experience, there is a wide variation in the skill level and bedside manner of acupuncturists. For that reason, it’s important to do your research and come prepared with a list of questions:
- Research the practitioner you are considering. Ensure they have a recognized certification.
- Ensure the clinic has a clean needle policy. All needles should be pre-packaged, sterilized and unused. (I have never come across a clinic that does not do this, but better to be safe than sorry!)
- Contact the clinic and ask whether they have experience treating clients who have similar chronic pain conditions. Do not go to a spa or aesthetician for pain treatment!
- Ask that they provide extra pillows to support your body while lying down. You’ll also need a treatment table with a head cradle (an oval opening for face support when you are lying on your stomach, so you do not need to turn your head to the side).
- Ensure they provide you with a way to call for assistance. It is uncomfortable to move while needles are inserted, so it is imperative that you can get help. The clinic should be able to provide you with a button to push to summon assistance or someone who can hear you easily.
- Tell the practitioner if this is your first time receiving acupuncture and ask that they only use five to 10 needles so you can test how your body will respond. There is no need to trigger a flare by starting with aggressive treatment.
- You may be offered additional treatments, like acupuncture with a mild electric current, cupping (using suction cups) or moxibustion. Make sure all your questions are answered before you start and always ‘trial’ the treatment the first time. Once, I agreed to have my entire back suction cupped, and I had the pain and bruises for days afterward. If I had only allowed a small area to be cupped, I could have realized this treatment wasn’t for me without the suffering!
- Just like with anyone who is a part of your treatment team, it’s important to make sure you get along. Also, ensure they provide patient-centered care.