Instead of the idea in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) that energy channels must be balanced, Medical Acupuncture looks at the body from a scientific view
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is believed that blocked energy along meridians or channels can cause disease. Medical Acupuncture diagnosis and assesses a patient according to the physical body or western pathologies, and treats using acupuncture needles to affect either the brain, hormones, and neurotransmitters or make a physical change locally. A diagnosis is often made a physical exam and the patient often allows us to communicate with their Primary Care Provider so we can understand what their X-rays, MRIs or blood tests look like to better understand their conditions. Functional Medicine is used to help determine where dysfunction is on a chemical and physical level.
Acupuncture is simply the act of needling into areas of the body that are highly conductive to the nervous system to change the output of the brain.
Medical Acupuncture still uses the same acupuncture needles that are used in TCM. However, sometimes smaller or bigger gauge needles are used for a certain therapeutic purpose, or shorter or longer needles are used.
Thicker, bigger needles are used more for pain. They help stimulate the sensory cortex in the back of the brain via A Alpha and Delta nociceptive afferent nerve fibers. This can help stimulate more endogenous opioids (pain relieving cells) to that area. Smaller needles on the other hand are better at simulating the limbic system and the front part of the brain via smaller C nociceptive nerve fibers. The small needles are better for hormone problems, emotional imbalances and other automatic issues (breathing, digestion, heart rate, sleep...)
Shorter needles are used when a dermatome is attempted to be stimulated. Dermatomes are sections of skin that are innervated by certain nerves from the spine. If someone has skin problems or a pain pattern that follows that certain nerve innervating the dermatome, a shorter needle is inserted.
A longer needle might be used to stimulate the myotome or sclerotome - the muscle level or joint capsule. A long needle, for example, might be a better option if someone has pain the the piriformis muscle which is a deep muscle in the buttocks. A long needle can be inserted to reach that muscle for pain relief or trigger point dry needling.
The type of needling used in Medical Acupuncture is different and specific.
In TCM acupuncture points typically are specified and follow acupuncture meridians or channels. In Medical Acupuncture, there is less emphasis on traditional acupuncture points, and more what kind of needling is being applied.
If the needle is inserted slowly and tapped in, the patient might have a better chance for short-term pain relief immediately Whereas, if the needle is inserted rapidly with little to no pinprick feeling, the patient has a better chance at long-term relief and results.
Medical acupuncture also focuses on exactly which muscle isn't functioning properly and inserting the needle into the motor point of that muscle which helps that muscle function better.
Dry needling trigger point therapy is used often in Medical Acupuncture. A muscle knot is found and the needle is inserted in a specific manner to release the muscle knot. Often we use an electrical simulation device to help further break up the muscle knot.
Most of these techniques are not employed in Traditional Chinese Acupuncture.
Medical Acupuncture almost always includes electrical-stimulation.
It is nearly impossible to find a valid research study with acupuncture WITHOUT the use of electrical stimulation (ES).A specific device, similar to a TENs unit with alligator clips is connected to the acupuncture needles similarly how you would hook up jumper cables on your car battery. The ES device grounds the electricity and a very specific wave shape, frequency and hertz are set on the machine. The ES machine sends the impulse from acupuncture needle to acupuncture needle in a safe and very well studied manner. The use of ES was first discovered when women went into childbirth labor that doctors could send a continuous electrical impulse to stimulate oxytocin, a hormone which helps induce labor. With this information researchers were able to specify the type and frequency of stimulation needed to help the brain stimulate various hormones. We set the ES machine on one setting for acute pain, another for chronic neuropathic pain, and a different setting for itching or rashes. ES with acupuncture makes the results profound, lasting and extremely effective.
Medical Acupuncture can include injectable solutions into painful areas.
Wet needling is the use of injections with acupuncture. Injections can occur with trigger point needling where saline can be used to hydrate a tight muscle knot. Procaine or homeopathic medication such as Zeel or Traumeel can be injected into areas or pain for relief or arthritis. Intramuscular injections include vitamin or minerals such as B12 can be used which is great for neuropathy. Herbal injections can help with pain, circulatory issues and other problems.
Medical Acupuncture, plus Functional Medicine, actually gets to the root of the problem. Traditional acupuncture does NOT get to the root of the disease.
You often hear that acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine is a "Holistic" therapy that gets to the core problem to fix disease indefinitely. This notion is false. Traditional acupuncture uses outdated, unproven diagnostic methods such as pulse diagnosis, tongue inspection, auricular inspection, abdominal palpation and others. While these methods certainly are not worthless and can point us in the right direction, without a universal approach of diagnosis, disease cannot be resolved.
A prime example of this might be headaches. A TCM practitioner might diagnose this patient with "Liver Yang Rising" according to tongue and pulse and insert needles along the liver channel which runs predominately along the inside of the legs. The patient might temporarily feel better, but the headaches are never resolved. This type of acupuncture can help stimulate endogenous opioids and local anti-inflammatories.
A medical acupuncture practitioner might do a physical exam on this patient and find trigger points along the sub occipital obliquus capitus inferior muscles. Upon Functional Lab Analysis it is determine the patient has very low sodium levels (hyponatremia) which can also cause headaches. The medical acupuncture treatment then would consist of needling into the trigger points in the neck, and along the spine to effect the liver, kidneys and heart directly. Diet is modified, exercises and stretches might be given and other techniques such as Kinesiology Tape might be used to help facilitate muscle balance.
Although TCM can be very effective, most times it is not comprehensive enough to treat the true cause of disease.
NOT ALL ACUPUNCTURISTS OR MEDICAL DOCTORS WHO PERFORM ACUPUNCTURE ARE TRAINED IN MEDICAL ACUPUNCTURE.