Last month in The Guardian, there was an article discussing whether acupuncture should be more widely used in the NHS. It discussed the advantages of acupuncture from the relative low cost when compared to expensive pharmaceuticals and equipment as well as its efficacy in treating certain conditions like pain relief and during labour.
It quoted Dr David Carr who I’ve had the pleasure of hearing lecture about his passion which is acupuncture in obstetrics and midwifery. He said:
There are conditions for which acupuncture works and others where it doesn’t. It is not a cure-all, and should be open to scrutiny. But the focus of my work is for acupuncture to become a standard part of midwifery training, and at the same time change perceptions among clinicians about its appropriate use for a whole range of other conditions.
The article focuses on acupuncture in the NHS and by default that tends to be western medical acupuncture (otherwise known as “dry needling”) as practised generally by doctors and physiotherapists. This is described in the article as:
…evolved from Chinese acupuncture but using current medical knowledge. The difference is that WMA has discarded mystical concepts like yin, yang and qi, and considers itself to be part of conventional medicine rather than an “alternative”.
It is this kind of comment that makes me sigh. There is nothing mystical about yin, yang and qi – just poor translation literally from the ancient Chinese medical texts during the 1970s and also poor communication between the two sides of healthcare, between the Western, medical, orthodox world and that of the traditional, alternative, Eastern side.
Yin and Yang describes the fundamental principle of balance and harmony. In science, it is simply stated as homeostasis. Qi is often misinterpreted as energy, vital force or living energy when it really can be boiled down to air. The ancient Chinese didn’t know how to describe oxygen and nutrients but when used in the context of Chinese medicine, it is their (slightly) poetic way of describing breath and air, which we can all agree is vital to life.
The ultimate problem with Chinese medicine is that a lot of the terminology shares vocabulary with philosophy and literature, which is why many people believe yin is only for women and yang is only for men – try explaining to a male patient that he is lacking in yang or has too much yin! Likewise the channels share names with our anatomy and physiology so you end up with patients misunderstanding the term Kidney deficiency and think they have kidney problems or bladder issues.
This is partly our fault as practitioners and acupuncturists. We need to remember that our patients haven’t had the years of training that we’ve had. Also we need to make clear that yin and yang and qi are words we use to describe our therapy but that there are equivalent and similar concepts to make us easier to understand such as fascia, lymphatic system, fatigue. It is the same as a British person saying lift and an American using elevator – they both want to go somewhere.
What we do ultimately is try our best to help patients, and this bizarre debate of my-acupuncture-is-better-than-your-acupuncture helps no one.
Should acupuncture be used more widely in the NHS? | The Guardian
Image: Flickr / Marnie Joyce