What is Acupuncture?

Close-up Of A Person Getting An Acupuncture Treatment At Spa

Acupuncture is commonly defined as ‘An Eastern Medical practice utilising the insertion of fine metal needles into the skin to gain a therapeutic effect.’

This is a complete sentence! The ‘Eastern Medical’ part, and the ‘fine needles’ part are not separate. The use of fine needles without training in Eastern Medicine is not Acupuncture. So if you have had needling done by someone who is not an Acupuncturist and not had the results you would hope for, this is most likely the problem.

There is a great deal of confusion in the general public about what the differences – and there are many – between Acupuncture and ‘dry needling’ are. Acupuncture is a registered term and profession, and dry needling is a term that has been newly created to avoid this training and registration.

A person holding the title of Chinese Medicine Practitioner/ Acupuncturist in Australia has completed a minimum 4 year Bachelor of Health Science – in Acupuncture. This is a degree with dual focus on Chinese and Western Pathology, Biomedical Science, Pharmacology and a minimum of 2000 hours practical experience, including at least 800 hrs of supervised practical clinical practice on the public, before they are permitted to graduate and claim the title of Acupuncturist.

All practicing Acupuncturists are required to be registered by AHPRA (Allied Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) and the Chinese Medicine Regulation Board of Australia (CMRB) to use the title of Acupuncturist in Australia. Someone who is not registered by AHPRA with the title of Acupuncturist, is, by definition, not practicing Acupuncture.

Please be aware this is a level of training and expertise significantly and dramatically higher than the practice of ‘dry needling’ utilised for muscular release (as practiced by Physiotherapists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths and Remedial Massage Therapists), which is generally a short weekend course. Dry needling, sometimes also known as ‘trigger point needling’ or ‘western acupuncture’ is essentially highly simplified, untrained ‘acupuncture’ by a practitioner who has acknowledged Acupuncture as being effective but has not undergone significant training to commit to understanding and practicing it comprehensively.

An Acupuncturist can also treat a broad range of conditions (see the Chinese Medicine, Evidence, or Mental Health pages for a comprehensive list), which are neither suitable, appropriate nor in fact possible for treatment with Acupuncture by someone who is not a registered, trained Acupuncturist.

While dry needling/ trigger point needling can and does get occasional results, there are also serious associated health and safety concerns associated as potential risks with all needling techniques, and these have, as you would expect, been specifically linked as more likely with undertrained practitioners.Points at various places throughout the body have the capacity to activate and stimulate actions aside from just the muscle being treated. Trigger point needling is one of many possible needle techniques an Acupuncturist may utilise for your treatment, but not the only one. Additionally, we will look for a diagnosis and cause for your condition, rather than simply creating a muscle twitch to relieve symptoms periodically.

Due to the known efficiency and spreading popularity of Acupuncture for these conditions, there has been a surge of non-Acupuncturist practitioners claiming these results with dry needling. You should be aware that not only are these claims fraudulent, but that they are not approved by AHPRA, or their direct modality regulatory body. Nor are they covered by their insurance if something does, unfortunately, go wrong. A person who is not registered for the title of Acupuncturist by AHPRA is not doing Acupuncture: they are doing dry needling. This is important to differentiate, regardless of what qualifications or training they may claim within another field. Their field of expertise is not Acupuncture.

Some of these practitioners are also claiming that dry needling is ‘scientific’ while Acupuncture is not. This claim, quite simply, is not based on fact. Acupuncture has a considerable body of evidence, often considerably more so than these practitioners have for their own profession. This is why they are attempting dry needling!

Most importantly, you, as a patient, are missing out on many of the benefits Acupuncture has to offer if you are not seeing an actual trained, registered Acupuncturist. Even if dry needling has worked for you in the past, there are many other options an Acupuncturist can offer for you to get better results.

For more information or to check that your Acupuncturist is registered visit the Chinese Medicine Regulation Board of Australia or the AHPRA website here.