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Health & Exercise Forum

Exploring Alternative Medicine: Part 2 of 2 on Acupuncture

Aug 19, 2013
Catherine Udomsak, SPT

Catherine Udomsak, SPT

Guest Contributor: Catherine Udomsak, SPT

Exploring Alternative Medicine: Acupuncture, Part 2 of 2

The majority of the public is familiar with traditional Chinese acupuncture, involving thin needles and specific body points.  However, the practice of acupuncture offers great variety and distinctive techniques have developed over the years.  As the practice spread throughout the world, countries expanded upon the traditional method and created new forms of acupuncture.  The different types include but are not limited to:

  • Acupressure: This is a technique in which the practitioner applies physical pressure to acupuncture points on the body to relieve pain.
  • Cupping: This style of acupuncture involves suctioning glass cups onto the body, often over trigger points, and allowing them to sit for a period of time.
  • Moxibustion: This is a technique in which a Chinese herb called mugwort, is burned on or near the skin to apply heat to an acupuncture point.
  • Auricular Acupuncture: Based on the idea that the outer ear is a microsystem which reflects the entire brain, needles are placed in specific sites on the ear to treat conditions throughout the body.
  • Korean Acupuncture:  This style of acupuncture differentiates itself in that it focuses on specific points in the hands. The entire body is treated through acupuncture points in the hands alone.
  • Tuina: This traditional Chinese medicine practice utilizes barehanded techniques that stimulate the flow of Qi through the body.  No needles are utilized with this type of acupuncture.
  • Invasive Electro-acupuncture: Small electrical currents are passed through two acupuncture needles.
  • Noninvasive Electro-acupuncture: This does not require needles to pass through the skin.  Instead a noninvasive probe is used stimulate the muscle with an electrical current, which often feels like a needle.


Catherine Udomsak, SPT, administers noninvasive electro-acupuncture to patient model, Vanessa Borgia.

Catherine Udomsak, SPT, administers noninvasive electro-acupuncture to patient model, Vanessa Borgia. 

With all the different types of acupuncture available, you may be wondering, could I benefit from some form of treatment?  A variety of ailments can be treated with traditional acupuncture andmany, who have been failed by conservative medicine, turn to this ancient practice for relief. Physical pain is a common complaint for Americans, and chronic pain can be a lifelong battle. According to the National Health Interview Survey, pain or musculoskeletal complaints accounted for 7 of the top 10 conditions for which people use acupuncture.  Pain conditions included but were not limited to low back pain, headaches/migraines, neck pain, osteoarthritis/knee pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, menstrual cramps, myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, tennis elbow, TMJ dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, and even postoperative dental pain. While research confirms that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, it is still unclear as to which diagnoses benefit the most from treatment. Other conditions for which acupuncture has been used include; gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, drug addiction, and psychiatric disorders including depression.  The list of conditions continues, however, solid evidence to support its use is lacking.  This is in part due to the fact that many different acupuncture techniques are in existence, making it challenging to compare studies.  Furthermore, many studies suffer from methodological errors such as small treatment sizes and a lack of control groups.  Nonetheless, certain individuals swear by this alternative treatment option.

If you are considering giving acupuncture a try, make sure to go to a certified practitioner and think about discussing the idea with your primary care physician.  A healthcare practitioner may be able to give you more insight on this treatment and recommend a reliable acupuncturist.  A licensed acupuncturist, or LAc, has received a degree/diploma from an accredited college and passed the national certification exams. Sometimes medical or osteopathic physicians, who have had specific training in acupuncture, will use it as an adjunctive technique.  Furthermore, certain forms of acupuncture including non-invasive electro-acupuncture and acupressure, can be performed by a physical therapist as an addition to treatment.

While acupuncture has become a popular method to treat pain and other symptoms of illness, more research needs to be performed on the science behind acupuncture and its effectiveness.  For the most part, the current research is inconclusive and it is difficult to say which patients will have the most success.  However, if conservative treatment has failed you and you are in search of relief acupuncture may be the right choice for you!  Acupuncture may not be the cure to any disease but it can certainly ease one’s symptoms and provide pain relief.  This ancient treatment has survived the test of time and continues to be one of the most prevalent forms of alternative medicine used today.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

Guest Contributor: Catherine Udomsak, SPT, Temple University, Doctor of Physical Therapy 2014. Catherine, a native of Clarks Summit, PA, is an intern at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC and is the 2013 recipient of the Dr. Paul Mackarey Physical Therapy Health Care Journalism Award.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.