What is acupuncture and TCM?

As Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is a new concept for many patients, we are going to start a series of articles that explains and introduces some of the key aspects of these practices to people considering seeking out treatment.

  • What is acupuncture and TCM?

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine involving the insertion of very fine needles into various parts of the body. It originated in China more then 2000 years ago, and is one of the oldest treatments in the world still being practised today. Acupuncture, Tuina (Chinese massage), Qi Gong (exercise) and herbal medicine together make what we call Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and all four treatments can be used in conjunction with one another to treat various illnesses.

Although TCM is considered to be a form of “alternative” medicine in the West, in China and other parts of Asia it holds prominence over Western medicine, with many people preferring TCM as their main choice of healthcare. As a prerequisite, TCM doctors who are trained in China must also learn Western medicine (e.g. physiology, biology, chemistry, neurology etc. on top of TCM history, philosophy, theory and practice) as part of their 5-7 years training.

  • Why are there different styles of acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the general name for this type needle-based treatment, but there are many different ways that it can be practised. Here are some other kinds of acupuncture styles:

  • Five Element Acupuncture: Originated from British Professor J. R Wolsey in the 1950s, Five Element Acupuncture is a widely known style of acupuncture, due to its Western roots. It is a more spiritual style of practice, which uses the idea of the Five Elements as a starting point for diagnoses and treatment.
  • Auricular Acupuncture: Based on the ear, this practice regards the ear as a microsystem for the rest of the body.
  • Hand Acupuncture: Mainly practised in Korea, this focuses on the hand as a microsystem for the rest of the body.
  • Regional Acupuncture, e.g. Japanese/Vietnamese: Various regional acupuncture styles are practised throughout Asia, with their own differing techniques.
  • TCM Acupuncture: The original and most widely practised style in China, TCM contains the theory and philosophical principles which all other acupuncture systems are based upon. It is the most comprehensive, in-depth and complicated system, and requires 5-7 years of medical training.

It is important that you ensure you understand what style of acupuncture your practitioner is practising. Although the various methods all share similarities with each other, they also differ massively on many aspects, including how the practitioner may diagnose your condition, how they treat it, and what kind of training they have had.

Different styles may also be more suited to different conditions – if you need more information on the different kinds of treatment, please contact us for more information.

Here at Cambridge Chinese Medicine, Dr. Wu is a practitioner of TCM, and the traditional Chinese Medicine style of acupuncture.

  • How do I find out if my practitioner is qualified?

The British Acupuncture Council is one of most reputable organisations in the UK that monitors acupuncture practitioners. This means that anyone who is member will have to meet certain criteria regarding their training, comply to UK health and safety codes, and have full medical malpractice cover (full list of criteria here). You can search for your nearest BAcC accredited acupuncturist here.

The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture, ATCM is another organisation which specialises in monitoring and regulating TCM practitioners (who will be able to practise acupuncture by default, as well herbal medicine, Tuina, etc). To find your nearest ATCM registered practitioner, click here.

At the moment, monitoring and regulating of “alternative” medicines in the UK is slowly developing, but in the meantime it is vital that you are informed about the choices you make regarding your health-care.


If you have any further questions or queries, please do not hesitate to contact us.