Over the past few years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has started to gain in popularity throughout the UK. This system – classed as a form of alternative medicine – makes use of massage, herbal treatment and acupuncture, the insertion of fine needles to bring about therapeutic effects. Outside TCM, the number of conventionally trained practitioners using acupuncture is also on the rise: their approach, usually referred to as western medical acupuncture, is rather different.
The Flow of Qi vs. Neuromodulation
TCM theory is based on the flow of qi (pronounced, ‘chee’) through the body via a system of meridians purportedly connected to different organs. These organs in turn govern different bodily functions, and pathology is said to arise when they are deprived of qi by blockages in the meridians. In essence, qi is seen as the vital force underlying all life, and acupuncture treatment in TCM is geared towards freeing its passage.
Unsurprisingly, western medical acupuncturists usually don’t hold with this point of view. Their understanding of the body’s workings is firmly rooted in the evidence-based theory and practice of the scientific paradigm. For this kind of practitioner,acupuncture’s efficacy is explained by neuromodulation: the acupuncture needles stimulate nerves in your muscles and below your skin, and promote the release of endorphins, your natural painkilling substances.
What’s the Evidence?
Many people swear by TCM as an effective method for the relief of a range of medical symptoms and conditions. However, a 2009 systematic review of TCM research carried out by the Cochrane Collaboration – a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to assessing the validity of medical treatment approaches – found inconclusive results concerning its benefit. This was attributed to generally poor standards of rigour among TCM researchers.
In contrast, western medical acupuncture is backed by a sound evidence base. Research into this treatment clearly highlights its advantages and points to areas where it isn’t effective. So if you suffer from lower back pain, tension headaches or migraines, acupuncture carried out by a practitioner of western medicine is likely to help you. If you seek relief from neck pain or the nausea and vomiting which accompany chemotherapy, it may help you.
The increasing popularity of traditional Chinese medicine has given the discipline a higher profile in recent years. Confusingly, doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners have started to offer treatments – such as acupuncture – apparently based on this system. But western medical acupuncture is a very different thing from its TCM relative.
Based on scientific principles, the effectiveness of western medical acupuncture is backed by real-world evidence, whereas TCM is unsupported by this kind of knowledge base. Bristol Chiropractic offers acupuncture for a range of conditions.