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Unveiling the Differences: Traditional Chinese Acupuncture vs. Western Acupuncture

By Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture, an ancient healing art originating from China with over 3000 years of history, has garnered widespread attention and adoption in the West. However, it’s essential to understand that not all acupuncture practices are created equal. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Western acupuncture (WA), often referred to as dry needling, differ significantly in their approaches, philosophies, and effectiveness.

Understanding the Philosophical Divide

Traditional Chinese Acupuncture:

Rooted in millennia-old principles, TCM acupuncture views the body as a complex system of meridians or energy channels through which Qi flows. By stimulating specific points along these meridians, practitioners aim to restore the body’s balance and promote health. TCM acupuncture takes a holistic approach, addressing not just symptoms but also underlying imbalances in the body’s energy, while also reviewing what the patient is experiencing in daily life and also their own health complaints, as varied or wide as they may be.

Western Acupuncture (Dry Needling):

In contrast, WA, also known as dry needling, primarily targets trigger points or “Ashi points” associated with pain and muscle tension. It focuses on relieving localized discomfort rather than addressing broader systemic imbalances. While it may provide temporary relief for musculoskeletal issues, it lacks the comprehensive approach of Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture. More often than not, some therapists have taken a 2 day weekend course and then call themselves ‘acupuncturists’, and in some regard bastardise the legacy and extensive training TCM practitioners have to go through to understand the complex body systems, channels, point theories and application of TCM. It is this lack of knowledge and piggy backing on a ’brand’ that can in some instances give TCM a bad name.

The Limitations of Western Acupuncture

Localized Focus: Western acupuncture typically concentrates on specific pain points, neglecting the interconnectedness of the body’s systems. This limited perspective fails to address underlying root causes of illness or dysfunction. In TCM we have a saying ‘bian bing’ or root and branch. What is the cause, what is the effect and what is the symptom. Some TCM practitioners only look to treat the branch (the symptom) but more often than not, and for myself as a practitioner, I prefer to treat cause and also outcome. While Western acupuncture may offer temporary relief for pain, it often overlooks the underlying root causes of illness and fails to address the holistic needs of patients as a whole.

Symptomatic Treatment: Western acupuncture lacks a holistic framework. It fails to acknowledge the intricate relationship between physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. A true TCM practitioner will also look or review diet, mood, sleep, bowel functions, menstrual cycles and collectively weave all of this information to understand the patient/person as a whole and then apply practise. As I was always taught, look at the body as if it were a beautiful painting….there is foreground, background, midground…treat what you can see but always respect that the body is multifaceted and complex.

The Time-Tested Wisdom of Traditional Chinese Medicine

Holistic Healing: TCM acupuncture offers a comprehensive approach to health, addressing not just physical symptoms but also emotional and spiritual aspects. By restoring balance to the body’s energy flow, it promotes overall well-being and resilience. TCM also encompasses a preventive medicine type approach. TCM emphasizes preventive care and seeks to maintain harmony within the body to prevent illness before it occurs. Regular acupuncture sessions can help bolster the body’s natural defences and optimize health. In TCM we never strive to remove ‘disharmony’ completely, but more to enable one’s body to help maintain homeostasis.

While Western acupuncture may offer temporary relief for certain ailments, it pales in comparison to the holistic approach and time-tested effectiveness of Traditional Chinese acupuncture. By recognizing the profound differences between these two modalities, we can appreciate the depth of wisdom inherent in TCM and its ability to promote true healing and vitality. As we continue to navigate the complexities of modern healthcare, let us not overlook the ancient wisdom that has guided humanity’s well-being for millennia.

In an attempt to replicate the success of TCM, Western acupuncture often adopts similar techniques and terminology. However, the outcomes and effectiveness of these approaches can vary significantly due to differences in philosophy and practice. TCM encompasses a wide array of therapies beyond acupuncture, including herbal medicine, dietary therapy, moxa, cupping, bleeding and qigong. This multifaceted approach allows practitioners to tailor treatments to each individual’s unique needs and constitution.

Bridging the Gap: The Divergence Between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Acupuncture.

In the realm of alternative medicine, the spotlight often falls on acupuncture, a therapeutic technique with roots tracing back to ancient China. However, as acupuncture gains popularity in Western healthcare systems, a profound divergence emerges between the holistic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and the more narrowly focused approach of Western acupuncture. Despite efforts to replicate the success of Chinese medicine, scientific studies reveal significant differences in outcomes and effectiveness. Scientific studies on acupuncture have yielded mixed results, with some demonstrating its effectiveness for certain conditions, while others remain inconclusive. However, many of these studies fail to capture the complexity of TCM diagnosis and treatment protocols.

Conclusion: Navigating the Complexities of Healing

As acupuncture continues to gain recognition and acceptance in Western healthcare systems, it’s essential to acknowledge the profound differences between the holistic principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the more narrowly focused approach of Western acupuncture. While both modalities have their merits, TCM offers a time-tested framework for holistic healing that goes beyond symptom management. By bridging the gap between science and tradition, we can pave the way for a more integrative and comprehensive approach to healthcare that honours the wisdom of ancient healing traditions while embracing the advancements of modern science.

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What Happens in an Acupuncture Treatment?

By Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Cupping, Moxa

The First Acupuncture Consult

In a modern world of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) we still apply the same ancient practice, but with slight modifications to allow for some changes in the way life was lived many thousands of years ago. In TCM we have four classical modes of enquiry: looking, listen/smell, asking and touching. So, what does this mean for a treatment at The Health Clinic.

Generally speaking, the first consult we have a series of questions (ASKING) such as main complaint, sleep, diet, bowl motions, pain, menstrual cycle (if applicable), medications, desired outcomes, previous medical history, general signs and symptoms. From there we take the tongue and pulse. This means we will ask you to show us your tongue (LOOKING) as we observe the tongue colour, body, coating, protrusion, and any other apparent features. Pulse (TOUCHING) is when we feel your pulse on both wrists as this reflects internal organ function and is a great indicator of any disharmony that may be occurring. Lastly (LISTEN/SMELL) this may seem odd but by observing how someone is breathing, or if they describe a body odour or particular smell, or generally appear and mannerisms is a huge diagnostic tool for us.

For a first-time acupuncture patient, this can sometimes seem a bit confronting with all the questions and taking tongue and pulse, but once you start to work with your acupuncturist, they should hopefully explain what they are looking for, what they are finding, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, a treatment plan with some guidelines as to how they want to approach your health complaint and health outcome.

Acupuncture Needles in combination with other treatments like Moxa & Cupping

Next is the needles – at The Health Clinic, we use single use sterile needles, they are very fine, vary in length, but generally pain free on insertion. Needling can cause a mixed bag of feelings/sensations for people as in effect we are activating the various channels in the body and moving qi/blood and overall energy within the body to create harmony and help relieve signs/symptoms of the complaint. Within a session we may also use moxibustion (mugwort root that has been dried and rolled) which is very effective for pain, fertility, moving qi, and offering full relaxation. Cupping is also an excellent form of treatment we can include (refer to cupping blog), along with auricular needling/seeds (ear acupuncture) and guasha (skin scraping – excellent for muscle tension).

Often, depending on the complaint, I like to trial or introduce Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM). This involves taking a herbal tonic once/twice per day to help with the main complaint, but also aide in the therapeutic effects of the needles. Needles themselves are very powerful, but sometimes if a chronic condition (or just as effective acutely if not more) needles and herbs are a lovely synergy together and can improve and increase outcome measures for the patient.

One or Multiple Acupuncture Sessions?

Ideally at The Health Clinic, we aim to have our patients leaving relaxed, and within a few treatments some great relief or improvement from their main complaint. One needs to note that acupuncture can be accumulative, so one treatment may not fix all your complaints in a session, but we would definitely expect to see some change. I often have patients come in with severe chronic complaints and they have tried every other modality that there is and in desperation come to The Health Clinic. Within a few sessions they can’t believe the transformation or shift they have noticed in their body, and often comment if only they had tried us first.

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Health Maintenance – A Dynamic Continuum

By Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine

What happens next when I am feeling better after treatment?

I have been asked this question a lot lately in clinic….”so I am here now with an injury/complaint, what happens next when I am feeling better after treatment…?” I really like this question as I have so many patients that do everything that they are not meant to. For example, in Chinese medicine we are slightly against running due to long term injury of knees, ankles, joints and ligaments, yet in this country running is almost like a rite of passage. Even more so on cold wet rainy Auckland days runners are out in force….a big no no in Chinese medicine. My runners who love running 5,10,15 kms 2,3,4 times a week for mental health but then realise their Achilles are sore, or the knees are giving them some grief, or their calves are cramping, they then ask why? As I work with them in clinic and give them treatment, we see a change within their main complaint, yet more often than not they say “…well this is why I am here so you can fix me so I can keep doing what I enjoy doing regardless of the effect on my body…”

Having worked with many ACC patients, and even patients that come into clinic as private patients with varying degrees of complaints from chronic to acute, I have found most patients once their complaint has been addressed don’t come back until it re-appears or there is another injury. What I now believe in clinic is that once we are on top of your original complaint, coming in every four to six weeks for a treatment to help rebalance the body and qi dynamics can help prevent injury re-occurrence or further/different complaints to arise.

Please don’t be fooled that this is a marketing tool, but when we look at the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) model, our bodies are a constantly dynamically moving energy force. When injury occurs (this can be internal, external, a common cold, Covid, childbirth or a broken arm for example) we work in clinic to fix the immediate and obvious complaint, but what many patients dismiss is that the qi is constantly moving, we are living life and injury can occur at any one time. This can be as simple as a stressful day or week at work, liver qi stagnates and next minute you are complaining of tight neck and shoulders or tension headaches.

My point being here is that once we have treated your first complaint, don’t stop there…. make a commitment to your health and stop into clinic on a regular basis that suits your lifestyle, come in for a tune up every 4-6 weeks…. treat yourself to some ‘you’ time…. your body, mind and health will thank you for it. Call it your own body warrant of fitness (WOF).

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Headaches 头痛

By Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Headaches

I have been getting re-occurring headaches, my GP says its due to stress. Can acupuncture help with this?

Headaches are horrible things, having once been a sufferer myself of migraines, I feel your pain. Again, without sounding bias, yes acupuncture is fantastic for treating headaches, migraines and/or cluster headaches (that’s how I have treated my own previous history of headaches). Tension headaches are the most common in the world with some reports saying that 2 in 3 people will/do suffer from tension headaches on a regular basis.

In Chinese medicine we view headaches slightly differently to western medicine. Often with tension headaches it can be due to the liver (Chinese medicine liver). This is the emotional organ of the body, the organ that generally is responsible for people waking between 1am – 3am and thinking about work or other stressors. When the liver qi stagnates it often presents in the upper thoracic / neck region of the body. When the qi stagnates and obstructs the natural flow of the qi through the meridians, we often see headaches starting at the base of the skull and more often than not radiates up to the forehead. Quite a typical presentation in clinic of a tension headache.

Will treatment hurt, and where will the needles be?

I always get asked this question, with the needles, we use single use sterile needles that are very fine. Often patients can’t feel the insertion as this is quick, occasionally there can be a slight prick, especially in the hands or feet as the kin is more sensitive. Other than that, we look for a dull, heavy, achy feeling…this for an acupuncturist is a good thing as it means we have elicited qi or activated the point/channel.

In Chinese medicine there are easily over 20 types of patterns (or diagnosis’) for headaches, so depending on the quality of the pain, location, onset, what gives the patient relief helps us to diagnose and this then in effect determines which points we use. Quite often though with the typical tension headache we will choose local points around the head/neck, shoulder, feet and hands. I also like to finish a headache treatment with cupping as if the patient is carrying extensive tension in their shoulders this also helps to break up that tension and allow qi and blood to move more freely.

How quick will I see results with acupuncture and is this a long-term treatment protocol?

This really depends on the patient and how they are presenting. I had a patient come to me in her first trimester of pregnancy with severe re-occurring headaches, after one treatment they stopped. Other patients will need a few treatments, so it really does depend on your lifestyle and medical history. Another thing worth mentioning is lifestyle and diet. Sometimes by simply increasing water intake, eating more regular meal (or excluding some trigger type foods), increasing exercise (especially for tension type headaches) collectively with needles we can achieve fantastic results. Seeing as I am also a huge advocate for Chinese herbs, there is the option to explore herbal medicine as well to help support the needles and over all treatment.


So yes, I believe I can help with headaches and with tremendous results. If headaches are re-occurring it can be the most debilitating thing, so I would suggest you come in for a consult and we can review what your headache ‘picture’ looks like and work out a plan to give you some piece of mind (literally).

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Insomnia Q & A

By Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Insomnia

I have chronic insomnia and nothing seems to work. Does acupuncture and Chinese medicine help with this condition?

How common is insomnia?

Insomnia is a worldwide issue and can affect 10-30% of the world’s population at any one time. In saying this, often people think they have ‘insomnia’ but there is potentially a underlying cause such as work/financial stress, depression, anxiety, excess in diet/social activities.  Insomnia can be varied in how it presents.

How can we treat insomnia at The Health Clinic?

Generally speaking, a person will sleep 7-8 hours per day, yet when this sleep is interrupted, unhealthy sleeping patterns can develop. At The Health Clinic and utilising the concept of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) we consider triggers, onset, quality of sleep and any noticeable cyclic patterns. TCM can be rather simplistic at times, so the key diagnostic measure we look for are 1) easy to fall asleep, 2) hard to stay asleep, 3) or no sleep at all. Once we develop a typical sleep pattern for a patient then we can diagnose and work on a treatment plan.

How can TCM / Chinese Herbal Medicine treat Insomnia?

Needles (acupuncture) are lovely and every effective in treating insomniac type patients. In TCM, we view the Shen (mind) as the main consideration. In TCM the shen descends and settles into the heart at night and is nourished by qi, blood, yin, and as one wakes in the morning the Shen then raises and floats back to the head and becomes the conscious mind again. If a person wakes to early, then shen can return to the ‘mind’ early and then we start to see an overthinking type pattern/complaint.

So, when we needle sleep patients, we focus on calming the mind (shen) we nourish qi and blood, we soothe qi as when qi becomes erratic it can scatter the descending of the shen at night. When we align this with Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) again we focus on nourishing blood, soothe the liver as in TCM, the liver controls all emotions. Nourishing blood with lovely herbal tonics such as Bai Shao, Suan Zao Ren are excellent in helping one sleep. We also have the option of using more anchoring herbs to settle the mind without being heavy like a sleeping pill such as Zopiclone for example….and the added bonus, our herbs are all natural and not synthetically made.


So insomnia is an everyday worldwide complaint,  with so many contributing factors, some/most we can’t avoid at times. However, there is a solution and through some gentle changes to life and work, increased exercise, mindful of when our last coffee was, closing the laptop and taking time out can all greatly improve one’s sleep pattern. Sleep is such an essential part of life, we need to love our bodies, to help us deal with everything else that is going on.

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Infertility Q & A

By Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Infertility

My partner and I are trying for a baby and considering IVF, can acupuncture help?

Yes, acupuncture is very effective in helping with this journey and some studies report that chances double when doing IVF and acupuncture together. To start with we focus on regulating your menstrual cycle and any other underlying health issues. The main objective here is that when you do fall pregnant, we want your body in optimum condition for a successful and healthy implantation.

One of the main concepts with acupuncture is that we look to harmonise the body, increase qi and blood production and create overall homeostasis. There have been several studies completed recently discussing how acupuncture can increase/improve hormone levels such as follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) along with increasing the release of neurotransmitters and endorphins in patients that suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) for example.

What is better acupuncture of Chinese herbal medicine?

I find them to be very complimentary of each other so most often we will use both modalities. Herbs are excellent at regulating your menstrual cycle while needles are fantastic at ensuring qi is flowing correctly in the body. Herbs are not only just for females, so we will also quite often dispense herbal formulas to males as well to ensure that their sperm is viable and healthy with good motility and ideally increase quality (sorry guys, you don’t get off that lightly). Needles are also just as effective for males, as sometimes sperm viability is the major factor – not the female’s side of things. More often than not when couples are trying to conceive, it can be a very stressful time so both herbs and needles are effective in calming down excess emotions.

How many treatments will we need?

This varies from patient to patient, and one has to take into account previous medical history. Regulating menstruation is essential, but considering the many contributing factors that can cause issues with fertility we at The Health Clinic will have an initial consultation and then work out a treatment plan. Another consideration is where you are on your journey. Some people may just be stating out, others will have been trying for some time, or some may have had several rounds of IVF.

Quite often in clinic we will do a pre/post treatments after the embryo transfer (if using IVF). The point here is to help relax the female and support the plantation process. Depending on the patient once there has been a transfer some females prefer to stop treatment and wait, others prefer to carry on with treatments. The decision is the patients but again this can be discussed in the initial stages or as we go along.


So to answer your question, yes acupuncture is very complimentary to (in)fertility and IVF and once you are pregnant there are some really lovely treatments we can offer to help with any pre or postpartum symptoms. I can appreciate that it can be a very stressful time in your life, but one thing I must say is that it’s very rewarding knowing that there are now The Health Clinic babies running around Ponsonby and Grey Lynn. One very rewarding aspect of the job.

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Chinese Herbal Medicine & Cancer Treatments

By Acupuncture, Cancer Treatments, Chinese Medicine

Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) is a routine option for oncology patients in China.

As well as chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and so on, cancer patients will take the Chinese herbal medicine formulas prescribed by their Oncologists. These formulas are given to assist their treatments and to manage the side-effects of treatments, such as nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea, insomnia and urticaria (hives or rashes).

There have been many research studies into the efficacy of CHM in supporting the treatment of cancer patients, and the results indicate that Jia Wei Xiao Yao San (加味逍遥散) is one of, if not the most prescribed formula in mainland China and Taiwan for breast cancer patients. This formula was developed during the Ming dynasty China and consists of 10 herbs. Its main actions are to help clear heat and reduce inflammation, protect the liver and spleen, and to nourish the qi and blood. The top 10 list of Chinese herbal formulas used for breast cancer patients shows the most frequently prescribed ones, and overall, their main focus is to support the body and reduce side effects. But what is so interesting about this list is that each formula supports a different body constitution, and targets individual conditions and reactions to treatment. Each one can be further modified to suit individual women and their particular stages of recovery.

Here at The Health Clinic, we have been working with a client who has started chemotherapy after her recent breast cancer diagnosis. We prescribed Jia Wei Xiao Yao San for her and in the weeks following her chemo sessions, she has noticed improved sleep patterns and reduced hot flushes at night. While Jia Wei Xiao Yao San is number one on the top 10 list, as Chinese herbalists we work closely with all of our clients, their particular conditions and issues, during and after their cancer treatment sessions.

Acupuncture is another great option we recommend to assist clients during their cancer treatments. Acupuncture has also been shown to significantly improve physical and mental fatigue, decrease anxiety and depression and increase quality of life in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. And research indicates that acupuncture has far reaching effects on immune system function, so it is not a stretch to suggest that acupuncture can benefit immune system function in chemotherapy patients as well, a benefit that would greatly aid in their ability to avoid contracting other illnesses during their treatment for cancer.

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