For one who does not know water
no description can equal the experience of being thrown into a lake! 

This little Zen saying sums up Acupuncture – or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – nicely. One can read or hear about it in a thousand different posts, blogs, websites Youtube clips and health books. They might see cup marks on an athlete or movie star. Some information is valuable yet truly 90% is garbage!

The greatest description cannot match doing it personally, seeing it for yourself, having a person explain it to you as it might apply to you personally and your present conditions. You have a health history, and a trained person has to piece it all together. Most people who choose this medicine do so because other therapies have already failed them – My peers and I are used to being the last one called! One reason they fail is the diagnosis is incorrect: the puzzle has never been fully pieced together. But another reason might be that the practitioner didn’t engage the patient enough  (that’s you) to do more to help yourself. “Acupuncture” is the overused term to loosely describe myriad therapies in TCM that piece the puzzle together, that help you get back on track.

Today in the West we have distinct separations between “professions” and each has their own trainings, boards, registrations

  • chiropractic
  • osteopathic
  • physiotherapy
  • massage
  • acupuncture
  • medical doctor
  • specialist
  • counsellor
  • dietician

But throughout history these were all rolled into one, with an individual also specialising or working in a team approach for what they couldn’t do. Often… 80% of what I do is physio, or 30% osteo, 70% Western medicine, or 20% chiropractic, or 75% massage, 50% counselling. And I practice acupuncture or more specifically TCM. In our narrow boxed in world I have to call myself an Acupuncturist because that is my degree and registration. But my training and experience is more diverse.

TCM is largely a personal medicine without fixed parameters or averages. I have worked in 3 countries and seen it firsthand in 6. It can be practised very differently in each setting. This is one reason it can be quite difficult to research. We call it Chinese, and without doubt healers and thinkers there contributed significantly to the system. But remember first and foremost it is a complete system of medicine: a system without borders or fixed origins. Many techniques are found in the likes of Greece, Middle East, India, North Africa, Indonesia, Pacific Islands and even South America. Nearby nations such as Vietnam, Myanmar or the outer islands of Japan contributed hugely to this process. They are not Chinese. It is almost unfortunate we label it “TCM.” No one owns it.

Most of what we do today has been continually shaped up to the preset moment, using many biological and Western scientific terms because we live now, not a millennium ago.  Many words may still be foreign, but we all get sick in the same language, all feel pain joy and grief in the same language. People within Chinese culture have been trading with the world for tens of thousands of years, though, and they are admittedly masters of rebranding and exporting.

That history is fortunate enough to have a few strong things going for it

  1. a written language
  2. excellent record keeping showing progression of ideas and methods
  3. cultured governments who supported education, science, medicine
  4. never fully colonised, thus able to retain a more intact picture of their history

If you have had poor experience with acupuncture in the past – especially by a marginally trained individual  “dry-needling”  – please try again! There are no actual laws regulating basic acupuncture in New Zealand – sadly anyone can legally  do it. That’s a very bad thing. There are weekend courses which allow people to then go try it on you, without supervision, literally without any other knowledge. Anyone can put it on their business card, sign or website. I worked for a terrible chiropractor/physio team who all went out after I left to “learn acupuncture” in a week at the insistence of their manager. The results are horrifying.

ACC registered acupuncturists, however, are proved to have at least 4 years full time study. There are bad auto mechanics, builders out there, that does not mean you never go to a mechanic or hire a tradie again, you instead find one who you like better. Same applies here.

“Acupuncture” is a misnomer – a word created by French or German doctors about 75 years ago which has stuck. When they observed Chinese doctors inserting fine needles into places on the body they had to call it something, and “accurate puncturing” made sense. Very basically, an acupuncturist inserts fine sterile needles into the skin to evoke a vasodilation effect. Each “pin” is roughly ¼ of one mm in diameter – far smaller than a normal jab. If you’re scared of needles, good. You should be. If someone walked into my office proclaiming that they loved needles, I think  might turn and run – It’s a normal natural apprehension. But these are not normal needles.

How and why we choose the locations we do, and the specific techniques used are far far more complicated.

I am fully qualified with a Master of Science degree earned in the U.S., plus a registered ACC provider. My first experience with acupuncture was actually on my dog. Almost 30 years ago 3 treatments from a young vet cured him of hip pain for the next 10 years… this was after a previous veterinarian said he should be euthanised or placed on aggressive steroid therapy.

I was new to it once just like you may be. No worries, just try it!