Innovations in Chinese Medicine?

acupuncture, chinese medicine, clinical research

A patient recently asked: Is there ever any innovation in the ancient field of acupuncture?


Answer: Yes! This is such a great question. Very early Chinese medicine went through a big evolution. Thousands of years ago, the concepts were full of mythology and superstition. Eventually, the myths were dispelled and over many centuries, the framework developed, and the theories and principles were refined. Several pivotal texts were written during these years that are still used as references in the profession today.


Sadly, in the last 150 years, the healing art form went through a tumultuous time due to many factors: politics, the struggle to keep up with western medicine, the need for accessible health care in rural China, and the attempt to standardize ancient medicine practices. Ultimately, the purest classical traditions passed down through generations are now almost extinct, and what we call “Traditional Chinese Medicine,” a more standardized (and allegedly watered down) practice, has supplanted it. It is a cause of great debate in the field.


There is always room for improvement as we learn more and progress, and as Chinese medicine spreads throughout the world. Acupuncture is a difficult field to research clinically because it poses fundamental study design issues and there are a variety of established styles. China has published a lot of clinical research, but the funding here in the US is lacking. Still, sometimes acupuncture point protocols are researched and tested for specific issues in the west. In fact, in the last decade or so, a protocol for in vitro fertilization became a standard of care after a clinical trial proved that it statistically increased pregnancy success rates.  I began using this religiously for my in vitro fertilization patients at the time of embryo transfers and it works so well that I will use it for the rest of my career. I also regularly utilize auricular(ear) acupuncture, which is another innovative technique that was conceived and studied by both Chinese and French practitioners around the 1950s.


Many well-respected professionals in the field today have developed their own methods of diagnosing and needling for specific conditions, and these practitioners have published books and taught courses based on their expertise. Occasionally, new acupuncture points are identified, presented, and accepted by the profession and taught to students as part of the curriculum. Recently, I took a continuing education course on a new theory of scalp acupuncture points for neurologic and psychiatric issues. These techniques were developed over the careers of a few doctors in China and well-studied at hospitals there over the last few decades. All these expansions have their roots in Chinese medicine theory, but with an innovative edge based on research, practical application, replicable results, shared knowledge, and with the primary goal of achieving the best outcome (i.e., helping patients feel better).


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