Patients in my clinic are sometimes confused by the fact that my style of treatment often doesn’t match that of acupuncturists they have seen previously. This is a natural response. I like to say, “There are as many ways to practice acupuncture as there are acupuncturists.”
One of my beloved (now deceased) professors of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Santa Cruz used to say, “There are many ways to get to San Francisco. You can take Highway 1… beautiful! You can take Highway 280 or you can take Highway 101. Just don’t drive South!”
This was her recognition that practitioners will always have their own approach to medicine and so long as they adhere to the basic principles of the medicine, they can achieve great results.
I find myself in an interesting position working in a hospital setting. I am expected to help chronic pain patients using only acupuncture tools in a short course of treatment. Many of my patients have intractable conditions and other complicating factors.
Traditionally, acupuncture is not used as a stand-alone therapy and outside of hospital settings is often combined with other modalities such as herbal medicine, therapeutic massage, etc. Achieving results in this setting can be difficult considering these factors.
One way I have been able to improve the outcomes of my acupuncture patients is to seek out lots of training in acupuncture traditions specific for chronic pain management. I have developed a specialty in Chronic Pain Management through my clinical experience and through the doctorate program I finished in 2011.
I have tried to seek out the very best chronic pain acupuncture techniques, including Traditional Chinese Medicine style, Master Tung’s Acupuncture, Richard Tan’s Balance Method, Zhu’s Scalp Acupuncture, Kiiko Matsumoto style, electroacupuncture, and auriculotherapy. I use these approaches in combination to render the best possible effect and the longest-lasting relief.
In general, acupuncturists have a number of approaches available to them in the delivery of acupuncture. It’s not just one homogenous thing. We may choose local acupuncture points – points at or nearby areas affected by pain. This is also known in some circles as “trigger-point therapy,’ or “dry-needling.” It is certainly a legitimate way of delivering acupuncture but certainly not the only or even the best way, in my professional opinion.
Distal acupuncture is another way in which the acupuncturist chooses points which are far away from but somehow connected to affected areas. These protocols have a tendency to work not just on the symptom itself but also the patient’s constitution. Therefore, we have a greater potential of rendering lasting changes in a patient’s condition when we use distal points (more so than with local acupuncture).
There are also “micro-system” acupuncture protocols. It is believed that certain areas of the body (such as the auricle of the ear, the hand, or the scalp) are a complete areas the treatment of any area of the body.
In auriculotherapy (one of my favorite approaches), there are hundreds of points in the auricle of the ear which correspond to musculoskeletal structures, internal organs, the endocrine system, the nervous system, and for specific conditions. We can deliver an entire and complete treatment protocol using strictly ear points and often render very good results with this approach.
Of course every patient is unique and techniques that work in one case (or in the same case at a different time) will not always render the same results. A part of my work as the acupuncture provider is to discover which approaches and protocols are the most useful for any given patient at any given point in time.
To complicate matters further, human beings are extremely adaptable. Any stimulus which is provided to a person (such as acupuncture needling) will lose its effect over time. Needling the same points over and over renders less and less effect.
Therefore I must remain flexible in my approach to any case. I am in the habit of changing approaches with each treatment session while always addressing the chief complaint and attempting to “tease out” the best effects. The result of this approach is to render longer-lasting and more complete relief in a short course of treatment.
It is not uncommon for me to choose different approaches at each treatment session for each patient. There are many ways to approach back pain as an example. To do so, I may do one treatment session with body-points at distal locations, another with local points, and another with strictly ear acupuncture points, and a fourth combining body and ear acupuncture points.
I sometimes combine local acupuncture points with electrical stimulation as well. In my opinion, electro-acupuncture is not a requirement to achieving good results in every case but should be thought of as a useful tool for specific purposes. I find that fine-tuning the protocol for each patient throughout the course is essential to achieving great results with acupuncture.
Keep in mind that what may ultimately be best for you could be something which you have yet to try. All I would ask of my patients is to keep an open mind and to show up for treatment. If you can do that, we’ll know sooner rather than later what is and is not working for you.