Acupuncture -
Is it Oriental, Traditional, or Complementary?

Izumo Shrine circa 1995

So how acupuncture fits in the big picture?

What do these terms...

Oriental, - Traditional, - Complementary, - Alternative...

actually mean?

They`re frequently used as synonyms although there are important differences.


Alternative medical techniques are usually used either because conventional methods are not working or because the patient wants something more natural healing method, or whatever is the reason, they`re applied instead of the officially accepted conventional methods, hence the name "alternative".


Complementary medical techniques are adjunctive therapies, used "complementing" the ongoing conventional western treatments of a certain condition.


Both alternative and complementary practices frequently use techniques based on Traditional Medicine Principles, but not necessarily always. Health practitioners can apply other, natural health, homeopathic, naturopathic and other techniques. So what is Traditional Medicine then?

Well, let`s skip one step backwards...

Ancient medical systems can be found on all continents, some of them originate from prehistoric era.

The Aztecs, Indians, Mesopotamians, Peruvians, Egyptians, ancient Greeks, just to name a few, had their own healing systems, very advanced at the time, preceding millenia our current modern medicine.

Medical systems, stemming from ancient medicine, developed parallel (and for a long time unknown) to the West, are referred to as Traditional Medicine.

Oriental and Traditional Medicine

Far East, South-East Asia have thousand of years of advanced civilization with advanced Traditional Medical Systems. This might give the impression that Traditional Medicine is Asian or Oriental exclusively, which is not universally true, but an acceptable association.

On the other hand, just because practising acupuncturists, as well as Doctors of Oriental Medicine recieve their training based on Traditional Chinese Medical Principles (and not Tibetan for example), associating Oriental Medicine with only Traditional Chinese Medicine, is obviously arbitrary.


There are lots of other "Oriental" practitioners who are using different than Chinese techniques, like Rei-Ki (Japanese), Prana-nadi (Tibetan), Shi-atsu (Japanese), Burmese massage(Thai) and any other discipline, based on

  • Traditional Tibetan Medicine
  • Thai Traditional Medicine
  • Sri Lankan Traditional Medicine
  • Traditional Korean Medicine
  • So, again...

    The practitioners of alternative and complementary medicine are usually trained in one of the Oriental Traditional Medical Systems, most frequently in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but not always, as such we can conclude that Traditional Chinese Medicine is Oriental, but not every Oriental, Traditional Medical System is Chinese.

    So how acupuncture fits in?

    Well, these above mentioned Traditional/Oriental (South-East Asian) Medical Systems all have sub-disciplines and specialties, for instance nutrition and diet, body manipulations, some type of massage, mushrooms, herbs, and minerals.

    Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

    for example has...

  • Cosmetology
  • Massage Therapy
  • Traumatology
  • Herbology
  • Moxibustion
  • Tai-Chi
  • Qi Qong
  • Dietary therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • The acupuncture practitioners in the U.S. are usually licensed in TCM, but we should not forget that Japan, Korea, Tibet all have their own needling systems, differing from one another in philosophy, interpretation, and techniques.

    More and more biomedical scientific evidences and trials support the use of acupuncture (so it is not an alternative outcast anymore) and it is officially recommended for certain conditions as a stand alone treatment, or complementing conventional therapies.

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