What is Western medical acupuncture?

Western medical acupuncture is a therapeutic modality involving the insertion of fine needles; it is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, and the principles of evidence based medicine.

Acupuncture probably originated in China, where it is used as one of a range of treatments provided within Traditional Chinese Medicine. Traditional Chinese Medicine is often called TCM. Although TCM is taught in medical schools in China, TCM doctors have a very different way of looking at how the human body works. The TCM idea of disease and symptoms is hard to reconcile with knowledge from modern medicine. It should be noted that China also trains large numbers of conventional medical doctors. It is a myth to believe that TCM is the only treatment available for the billions of people who live in modern day China. In fact, the Chinese seem to live with a mixture of both TCM and modern medicine.

Many Western doctors accept that acupuncture treatment does work in a wide range of conditions and for a variety of patients. We want to use this treatment to help our patients. However, our modern medical knowledge makes it very hard for Western doctors to accept the principles of TCM - which to many Western doctors do not fit with their understanding of how the body works.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of Western scientific research into pain that has helped us understand how acupuncture might work. In particular, we know that acupuncture causes the release of natural pain-killing and healing chemicals within our bodies. In other words, acupuncture appears to help our bodies to heal themselves.

Some members of the BMAS are not only trained as orthodox healthcare professionals, but are also trained in TCM. Most members of the BMAS, however, use Western medical acupuncture within their usual professional practice. They often use the descriptive title "medical acupuncturist".

We often have debates within the Society about the value of TCM. One positive aspect to having two very different approaches to acupuncture is that it can stimulate thought and encourage research.