There are many different styles of Acupuncture that are practiced today. While Acupuncture originated in China approximately 3,000 years ago, the practice spread over the Asian continent and developed its own regional adaptations. Each of these Acupuncture styles differs in their theory and practice. While they mostly share the same fundamentals of Oriental Medicine, their interpretation of classical texts, such as the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), can alter their diagnosis and treatment techniques.
Several modern styles of acupuncture have been developed, incorporating Western medical knowledge, to form hybrid systems of acupuncture. These modern systems of Acupuncture commonly focus on biomedical explanations of how acupuncture works and distill many of the more esoteric aspects of practice.
While all of the classical styles of acupuncture are in agreement on the pathways of the Acupuncture meridians, the exact location of the Acupuncture points does vary. Each style may utilize the acupuncture points with different therapeutic goals in mind, and include a variety of extra points that many not exist in other styles of Acupuncture. Styles can also vary in the needle size, insertion depth and needling technique. Summaries of each major style and high-lights of their differences are shown below.
Chinese Acupuncture is one of several treatment modalities within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In the 1950’s with the rise of Communism, Chairman Mao instituted the formulized development of Traditional Chinese Medicine from the knowledge of the remaining traditional doctors in China. TCM was modernized into a curriculum which included western medicine and was integrated into the hospital care system. This style of acupuncture is taught in most US Acupuncture schools and has a large amount of research from China supporting its methodology. It is the most common form of Acupuncture practiced today.
Some acupuncturists identify more with Classical Chinese Medicine (CCM) verse Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the former is based more on interpretation of classical Chinese medical texts over modern research. The creation of TCM removed many of the more esoteric concepts of Chinese Medicine to focus on methods that could more easily be taught in an institutional settings verse the traditional method of long-term apprenticeships.
Chinese style acupuncture utilizes thicker acupuncture needles compared to other styles, and tends to focus on the “de qi”, or getting Qi, sensation to achieve a clinic result. Some patients may find Chinese style more aggressive in treatment then other styles of acupuncture.
Japanese Acupuncture is best known for its use of thinner needles and shallower insertions. It developed approximately 1,500 years ago when the influence of China spread to Japan. The thinner needles were adapted to better suit the more subtle nature of the Japanese culture. In fact, many Japanese-style acupuncturists perform only contact needling, which does not even puncture the surface of the skin.
This “softer” style is very suitable for children who often have fear of needles. Japanese acupuncturists also place less emphasis on the needle sensation as an indication of clinical effectiveness.
There are many styles of Japanese acupuncture practiced in Japan; however in the United States, Meridian Therapy and Kiiko Matsumoto style are the most common. Meridian Therapy focuses on diagnosis via the pulse and meridian palpation, and then uses subtle needle techniques to balance the meridians. Kiiko Matsumoto style of acupuncture utilizes body palpation, especially of the abdomen, to treat the disharmonies that are felt in the body.
Due to the fact that acupuncture spread to Japan long before the Communist revolution in China, Japanese acupuncture has also retained much of the spiritual aspects of the original medicine. Acupuncture is still very popular in Japan today and functions as alternative and complementary care.
Five Element Acupuncture
Five Element Acupuncture is based upon one of the foundational concept of Oriental Medicine: the five elements. The system was made popular in the Western world thought the teaching of the late Professor J. R. Worsley. While this concept of the five elements exists in all classical forms of acupuncture, Five Element acupuncturists focus more on the energetic, spiritual, and emotional components of the Classical Chinese Medicine that were stripped from TCM.
Each patient is diagnosed with a causative factor of one of the five elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Various energetic blocks are resolved through acupuncture treatment before a constitutional treatment is performed. Five Element Acupuncturists generally use thinner needles with more subtle stimulation than TCM practitioners.
Auricular acupuncture is a microsystem or micromeridian style of acupuncture treatment that maps the entire body onto the ear. Smaller needles, magnets, pellets, and seeds are used to stimulate ear points in order to induce a physiological response. Auricular acupuncture, or ear acupuncture, is commonly used in combination with whole body acupuncture to treat addiction, pain, and stress.
The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) Treatment Protocol uses five specific ear acupuncture points on each ear for addiction treatment, and has been very successful in large-scale substance abuse programs worldwide. Auricular acupuncture also works well in Community Acupuncture clinics, where large groups of patients receive acupuncture together, in one single room, at a lower cost than when administered privately.
While this style of Acupuncture originated in China, much of the modern research in Auricular therapy was inspired from the work of French Dr. Paul Nogier. Dr. Nogier’s efforts spread throughout Europe and even back to China. Modern research from both Europe and Asia has formed the system of Auricular acupuncture given today.
Korean Hand Therapy Acupuncture
Korean Hand Therapy (KHT), also known as Koryo Hand Therapy is an acupuncture method invented by Dr. Tae Woo Yoo in 1971. In KHT, the hands are considered a microsystem of the entire body including its meridians, allowing diagnosis and treatment of conditions anywhere in the body by using just the hands. KHT is a very popular form of pediatric acupuncture, highly suitable for children because the needles are so fine and insertions are shallow and gentle. Practitioners also can use magnets, pellets or low-frequency electromagnetic stimulation to achieve results.
Scalp Acupuncture, or Zhu's Scalp Acupuncture, is a specialized system of acupuncture for treatment of neurological disorders, including spinal cord injury (SCI) and multiple sclerosis (MS), by needling the scalp. Scalp Acupuncture is especially useful in post-stroke conditions to improve motor and sensory functions. Treatment works best when given as soon as possible after a stroke, ideally within 6 months of the cerebrovascular incident.
Scalp Acupuncture has its own unique treatment zones, apart from Traditional Chinese Acupuncture points. Patients can receive treatment in almost any position, which is ideal for those confined to a hospital bed or wheelchair. The needles used in scalp acupuncture are shorter and thinner than regular needles, and the techniques include rapid manipulation the needles. Scalp Acupuncture is commonly combined with physical and mental exercises called "dao-yin tu-na" to expedite the therapeutic results.
Tung Style Acupuncture
Tung Style Acupuncture is a unique system of acupuncture developed by the late Master Tung Ching Chang in Taiwan. Master Tung became famous due to his ability to achieve rapid results with few needles. While many of the points used by Master Tung were on acupuncture meridians, they were not the standard points used by most acupuncturists.
In Tung style acupuncture, distal points on the limbs are needled that can balance the Qi of the entire body. This technique is achieved though an imaging of the entire body onto the limbs, ear, and scalp. Acupuncture points on the chest and back were also used with bleeding techniques for specific conditions. Tung Style Acupuncture is growing in popularity and is considered highly-effective; however, finding a properly-trained practitioner can be difficult due to the limited transmission of knowledge from close teacher – student lines. Master Tung’s system of acupuncture is also referred to as Master Tong acupuncture or Tung’s Orthodox Acupuncture.
Electro-acupuncture is the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles as a means of stimulating the acupuncture points. Electo- or Electronic Acupuncture was developed in China as an extension of hand manipulation of acupuncture needles around 1934.
The benefits of using electro-stimulation in conjunction with acupuncture include:
- Electo-acupuncture substitutes for prolonged hand manipulation, assuring that the proper the amount of stimulation is delivered. Extended hand manipulation can lead to the practitioner pausing due to fatigue.
- Electro-acupuncture can produce a stronger level of stimulation, if desired, without causing tissue damage associated with twirling and lifting and thrusting the needle. Strong stimulation may be needed for difficult cases of neuralgia or paralysis.
- It is easier to control the frequency of the stimulus and the amount of stimulus than with hand manipulation of the needles.
More classical style acupuncturists shy away from electo-stimulation since they do not feel the machine can replace the energetic connection and adaptation of technique provided by an experienced practitioner.
Balance Method Acupuncture
Balance Method Acupuncture is best known for its ability to relieve pain instantly. While the style is taught by Dr. Richard Tan, much of the theoretical knowledge came from the work of Dr. Chao Chen and Master Tung. Dr. Tan has synthesized and improved on his predecessors’ work by further expanding the system and creating methods to easily train other acupuncturists. The method uses distal points on the limbs to image the entire body for balancing of the meridians. Much of the theory is based upon the Yi Jing (I Ching or Book of Changes). In addition to its success at treating pain conditions, Balance Method acupuncture is also effective in treating other health problems with equally impressive results.
Laser Acupuncture is the use of a low-level laser to treat acupuncture points. Currently, Laser acupuncture is considered an investigational therapy by the FDA. However, there is growing interest in the use of lasers due as some suggest they are as effective as acupuncture needles and pain-free.
The traditional Chinese name for acupuncture therapy is “Zhen Jiu”, which literally translates as needle and moxibustion. As the name suggests, moxibustion is often used in conjunction with acupuncture during treatment. The Chinese herb Ai Ye, which is also known as Mugwort, Artemesia vulgaris, or just “moxa”, is burned to provide a warming treatment for deficient conditions. Most patients enjoy the nice warming feeling of moxibustion; however, some techniques can create large amounts of smoke. Moxibustion treatment is can be delivered in either direct or indirect methods.
Direct moxibustion is commonly used by Japanese style acupuncturists. First, an herbal burn cream is applied to the acupuncture point to protect the skin. Then, tiny cones (usually smaller than a grain of rice) are burned directly on the skin in a repetitive manner until a change in the acupuncture point can be felt by palpation of the practitioner. The moxa used for direct moxibustion is of higher quality and burns at a lower temperature than coarse moxa. While the direct method may sounds uncomfortable, it creates a comfortable and warm feeling on the skin and produces less smoke than the indirect method.
Indirect moxibustion is used in several methods:
- Warm-Needle Therapy: moxa is formed into a ball-shape and burned on the end of an inserted acupuncture needle. This allows the effects of the herb to travel down the needle into the acupuncture point.
- Stick Moxa: moxa leaves are rolled into cigar-shaped sticks and waved over acupuncture points and meridians to warm a specific area.
- Moxa Box: loose-ground moxa is burned in a small wooded box with an open bottom that allows the smoke and heating effects to direct strongly over a specific area. This is technique is commonly used on the lower back or abdomen.
- Cone moxa: moxa is hand-pressed into medium-sized cones (about 1 cm in diameter at the base). These cones are then burned acupuncture points with the skin protected by salt, a slice of ginger, or a slice of aconite depending on the patient’s condition.
Cupping Therapy is another form of therapy used in conjunction with acupuncture. Cupping is the use of glass, plastic or bamboo cups on the skin that have been voided of air to create low pressure inside the cup. The low-pressure vacuum creates suction on the skin. The low pressure is created via a suction-pump or more traditionally by using fire to burn off the oxygen contained in the cup, reducing the volume of air.
Cupping is an effective treatment to extract stagnated Qi and blood from the muscle layers. It is very effective in treating common colds and muscle congestion. Occasionally, oil is used on the skin in conjunction with the cups to create a moving cupping massage; this technique creates a similar effect to a deep tissue massage. Most patients enjoy the sensation of Cupping Therapy; however, it is common to have temporary marks remaining on the skin for up to 1 week after treatment.