Acupuncture vs. "Acupuncture"

The influence of Chinese Medicine continues to grow in North America with more and more health professionals starting to incorporate aspects of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture into their practice for the betterment of their patients and clients alike. No doubt you have probably also seen the word acupuncture associated with physiotherapists and medical doctors, and similarly, cupping and myofascial release (Gua Sha) popping up in massage practices and alongside other manual therapies. In general, this is great for patients who can receive the benefit of these techniques, but to be clear, there is a big difference between some of these therapies and how they are applied. Because there seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding these differences I think they are worth clarifying. As with any decision in life it’s worth knowing all the information before making the decision as to which therapy may be the best fit for you and your wellness goals.

So why are we all so confused? One of the major reasons, stems from the word acupuncture itself. The word acupuncture, as you may think, would be reserved for Acupuncturists (a regulated title “Registered Acupuncturist” R.Ac), however it is not protected under our regulatory body leaving it to be thrown around and used without much discretion. As you can imagine this point is a bit of a sore spot for us Acupuncturists as we worked very hard studying our holistic medicine which includes traditional medical theories, a detailed system of diagnosis and diet and lifestyle recommendations. But what about the other practitioners, and these other therapies?

Unlike an Acupuncturist, who studies a three year diploma program in Canada (2190 hrs of education) ( , physiotherapists and medical doctors are able to take a short course from Acupuncture Canada ( 35 hours of onsite training for ACC 1/2 or 84 hours of ONLINE training) ( and receive ACC (formerly CAFCI) certificates and become certified to practice “acupuncture” (dry needling) under their professional regulatory bodies, or become certified in the more aggressive technique of Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). I will let you compare for yourself the rigour, and scope of study, and decide which education suits your comfort, and to which profession you would prefer to receive acupuncture from. Once again, although I personally believe everyone should be seeing Acupuncturists for their needling needs, these practitioners can still get results treating musclo-skeletal pain but are limited in their treatment of many other disorders as they lack the holistic perspective Traditional Chinese Medicine provides.

  • Registered Acupuncturist (R.Ac): regulated by the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of British Columbia - 2190 hrs of training + the pan-Canadian Acupuncture board exam.

  • Physiotherapists and Medical Doctors with ACC certification: - 35 hrs of onsite training or 84 hrs of online training + 2.5 hr written exam and 35 minute practical exam

I am always surprised when I ask patients and others inquiring about Acupuncture what their previous experiences were like and they mention receiving IMS or “acupuncture” (dry-needling) from an MD or physiotherapist. Some have positive experiences and others have been turned off completely by the unnecessarily aggressive needling style of IMS. True Acupuncture however is representative of the culmination of a detailed system of diagnosis including tongue and pulse, yin/yang theory, five element theory, zang fu diagnosis, the eight principles and wen bing and shan hun lun disease theory. By applying these theories in tandem with a comprehensive patient intake patterns of disharmony occurring in the body can be identified and harmonized in treatment.

Because true Acupuncturists work with patterns of disharmony within the body, and do not identify specific diseases, a unique point prescription can be applied which addresses the entire body, mind and spirit. Often dry-needling and IMS, applied by MDs and physiotherapists, prescribes to the oversimplified “where there is pain there is a point” (ashi) theory, which can treat simple musculoskeletal-skeletal pain, but ignores the richness and efficacy of point combinations and distal treatment (needling points away from the site of illness or pain).



In true Acupuncture point prescriptions are chosen based on their actions and indications and how they are relevant to treating the disease process identified in your body. In healthy individuals, these processes occur in nearly insignificant proportions but as they continue unchecked illness presents. Because these patterns can be identified early in the tongue and pulse and with TCM diagnostic theory, we can use Acupuncture treatment as an effective preventative medicine.

If you still need more clarification please feel free to send me a message or email and I can help you understand the nuances. I promise to be as honest as I can be as to whether I believe Acupuncture is the right choice for you. As with anything the Medicine does have limitations. This post is not to bash MDs or physiotherapist’s but it's my hope, as I have witnessed with some of my colleagues, that MDs and physiotherapists interested in Acupuncture will return for a certified diploma of Acupuncture program and seek professional registration if they wish to continue to brand their practice with “acupuncture”. It is truly an amazing Medicine which can add value to any medical practice!

Chris Russell