Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese healing art, practiced for more than 2,000 years. Acupuncturists specialize in a group of treatments that fall under the general category of acupuncture. Many people assume that acupuncture is only about needles, but in reality there are numerous treatment techniques used. There are many different styles, including Chinese Japanese and Korean Acupuncture, but all have a common goal: the restoration and maintenance of good health and prevention of illness.
Acupuncture is rooted in traditional Oriental Medicine which views perfect health as a state of balance. Disease and illness are caused when the Qi, or vital energy of the body, is in imbalance. Stimulating certain points on the body corrects this imbalance and shifts the body towards balance, reducing pain and restoring good health.
In recent years acupuncture has gained wider acceptance and use in Western cultures, and is often recommended by mainstream physicians as an adjunct treatment. With an increasing focus on complementary and alternative medicine, acupuncture is a career that is likely to see significant growth.
An acupuncturist will perform a patient assessment with four examinations:
Inspection. This involves looking at the patient, body type, posture, skin tone and lustre of hair. It may also include the traditional method of tongue diagnosis.
Listening. Information is obtained by listening to the patient's voice and breathing. Smelling is also included.
Feeling or Palpation. This uses abdominal palpation and meridian touch, and the traditional art of pulse diagnosis, in which the practitioner feels the patient's pulse and notes the rate, rhythm, quality, and shape.
Inquiry. Standard questions are used to assess body function, digestion, diet, sleep, pain, sensory function, elimination, sweating, menstruation, and medical history.
From the information gathered in the assessment, the practitioner can then understand the patient's condition. The view of anatomy and physiology used by an acupuncturist is different from western medicine, and is built on concepts such as the balance of Yin and Yang, Meridian theory, and patterns of disease. It is important that the practitioner takes a holistic perspective in considering all parts of the patient's signs and symptoms before treatment can begin.
Treatment with acupuncture can use needles, but that's just one of the tools and techniques used. Moxibustion, massage, polarity devices, blood moving approaches, and frequency approaches are also used by an acupuncturist. Within each of the techniques there are many different application methods. Massage, for example, can be used in traditional Chinese ways, or in the Japanese Shiatsu, which is meridian-based. Different devices are used to establish an electromagnetic gradient along meridians and acupuncture points to facilitate the flow of Qi along the meridian pathways.
The best-known technique used in acupuncture is, of course, the needles. These come in a range of thicknesses and lengths, and are often as thin as a shaft of hair. They are made of different materials, including stainless steel, gold or silver. Needle treatment involves placing needles at select points all over the body.
An acupuncturist will also often recommend exercise, dietary changes, and herbal supplements. The profession is evolving, and new techniques continue to be incorporated. Colorpuncture, for example, is a variant in which beams of color are used at acupuncture points.
There are no specific educational requirements involved in many countries, and acupuncturists are often health care providers in other fields, such as chiropractors. In countries like the U.S. and Canada, registration as an acupuncturist means that an approved program of studies must be completed. In Canada at least 500 hours of acupuncture practice also must be completed. In the U.S. practitioners must hold a degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or the equivalent. There are a number of accredited colleges for acupuncture, including some that offer master's degrees. Certification differs from state to state. The primary focus of training is on use of acupuncture techniques, herbal medicine, massage and bodywork, nutrition, energy exercises, but it also includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, western medical diagnostic testing, and herb-drug interactions. In the UK and Australia, the practice is also regulated by law, but actual requirements vary by location and state. In China and Japan there are training facilities dedicated to acupuncture.
A good acupuncturist likes observing people and is a thorough interviewer. Among other personal characteristics needed:
a responsible and compassionate attitude
strong understanding of ethics
an interest in human biology and physiology
good communication abilities
professionalism and maturity
ability to gain the trust of patients and establish a rapport
precision work and attention to detail
Acupuncturists work in treatment clinics, offices, or in private practice. Many work in partnership with other health care providers. Some work in hospitals. The job may involve many hours standing, and may include evening and weekend hours for the convenience of clients. Safety regulations and clean needle rules must be followed, and technicians must use safe needle handling and disposal practices. Exposure to biohazards such as blood is likely.