What is the difference between Eastern and Western Medicine?

While both treat the same human body, there are important fundamental differences in philosophy and approach.

First looking at “Western” Medicine (or Biomedicine is a more accurate term), which clearly divides health from disease and seeks to categorise disease by category or cause (e.g. bacterial, viral etc). It then focuses on these, seeking to control, change or destroy using, for example poison(e.g. chemotherapy), pharmaceuticals or surgery. A Biomedical physician startswith a symptom of disease and then searches for the specific cause. The disease tends to be specific and bounded.

This works well for say acute conditions, e.g. a bacterial or viral infection causing symptoms of meningitis and where a targeted medicine can be given against the cause e.g. bacteria or virus. However, it can be over-simplistic for complex and/or chronic conditions. The Biomedical term used for what it cannot define and treat well are “functional disorders” where it is said no organic reason can be identified. These would include psychological disorders and complex pain disorders e.g. Fibromyalgia, Temporomandibular Joint Pain (TMJ), Neuralgia pain, Interstitial Cystitis as well as others e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic

pain, Interstitial Cystitis as well as others e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome etc.

East Asian Medicine (of which Chinese Medicine is a part) is a coherent and independent system of thought and practice that has been developed over two millenia. In contrast to Biomedicine, physicians who practice East Asian Medicine , looks at the whole person-both physiological (body) and psychological (mind). Fundamentally, it considers health not just as an absence of disease, but as a balanced state of all parts of the whole person.

A differential diagnosis is made based on taking a complete medical history, a physical exam and an assessment of the patient’s symptoms (which we often call the Main Complaint; noting that it is not ever the only one as if there is one aspect so out of balance as to be causing symptoms then there will be others that all need addressing for the whole to be well). We use the rich language of “patterns of disharmony” which is what we diagnose and then weave a story for each patient that is unique to them, always seeking to understand the root cause.

The analogy of a tree is helpful here. If the presenting symptoms are the leaves at the tips of the branches, finding out the state of health of the branch is important as is the whole tree. By treating as close to the roots as possible, this will help the whole tree, not just the leaf. Of course, when patients first come for treatment, they want the leaf “better”. Often, when that is resolved, patients come for regular or health maintenance treatment as they experience and appreciate the importance of treating the root. This is not necessarily always the case or required; each patient is unique after all.

The richness of East Asian Medicine approach is that it appreciates that imbalances are unique in every patient, very unlike Western Medicine there is no one size fits all approach. Each diagnosis is different, because each person is too. There is an important saying

“One Disease, Many Patterns. 

One Pattern, Many Diseases”. 

In other words, ten patients may present with back pain or fertility issues, and for each of them the patterns of disharmony will be different and must be treated differently. Equally, one pattern, for example what we may call “Damp” (accumulation and stagnation of fluids” can cause many diseases, e.g. headache, obesity, infertility etc).

As a patient receives treatment, then different patterns become apparent. There is a hierarchy of treatment, where blocks and excesses must be cleared early. Generally, over time, more strengthening can then be incorporated. But there is never a “rule” and always we treat as we find.

Where East Meets West

One Acupuncture uses all information available incl. medications, western disease labels, results of blood and other medical tests -integrates into East Asian Medicine diagnosis.


Traditional Acupuncture is a holistic healing system, originating in China and the Far East, that has been used for several thousand years to restore, promote and maintain health and wellbeing.

Very fine, sterile needles are inserted into specific points on the body which connect with energy (Qi; pronounced “chee”) channels that run throughout the body. In good health, the body’s energy flows freely along these channels. These channels do not have a delineated physical structure, like a blood vessel, but rather they are spaces that run throughout the body, between the fascia, muscles, bones and skin. In ill health, this energy can become stuck (e.g. causing pain), or become depleted. This traditional language and metaphors used to “explain” acupuncture are a beautiful and simple yet elegant way to understand your body and what ails it. Alison always seeks to educate and inform so that you too can see and understand yourself through this filter.

Acupuncture aims to restore your body’s balance, freeing any stagnation and strengthening weakness. At a deep level, it connects us back to ourselves and to our environment; links we can easily lose in today’s fast-moving world.

To use a different language; a modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals and hormones in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals can then trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body’s own internal regulating system. Regardless of the language used, acupuncture is proven to be a safe and effective therapy across as wide range of conditions. The improved energy and biochemical balance produced by acupuncture results in stimulating the body’s natural healing abilities, and in promoting physical and emotional well-being. In theory it treats “everything” as it treats “everyone” as one whole person.

Traditional Acupuncture is the overall term given to this holistic approach. There are different styles based on traditions of teaching). At One Acupuncture®, Alison has been trained in and integrates all these styles into your treatment, based on your unique diagnosis and treatment plan.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the most commonly used form, and identifies imbalances through examination and questioning. It is quite prescriptive and gained acceptance in China in the 1950s as a “modern” simplified and standardised approach. This approach works well for structural and physical conditions, e.g. shoulder, back pain.
Five Element Acupuncture. This considers that people can be defined as five core elemental types (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth or Metal), one of which tends to be constitutionally weaker than the others. These elements or phases are also associated with different emotional states, which when imbalanced such as inappropriate Anger, Fear, Sadness, Grief, Worry. An inappropriate expression of emotion is treated with as much focus as a physical symptom and indicates a lack of balance (even if not presenting yet as poor-health). Acupuncture seeks to provide balance at this deep element level, and patients report a general improvement in spirits, health and outlook. This approach is often effective for functional or idiopathic conditions (no obvious physical cause, often with underlying emotional issues).
Classical Acupuncture. This is the term used for one of the oldest, most profound and holistic forms of Acupuncture. TCM and Five Element Acupuncture stemmed from here. It is based on classical medical texts from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE -220 CCE). It embraces the flow between body and mind, physical and emotional health.

In 1950s China, Classical Acupuncture was suppressed and practitioners were exiled as the simplified TCM approach was embraced by the Maoist government. There has been a relatively recent resurgence in Classical Acupuncture, which still closely follows the principles and points from the ancient texts. It is only practiced by a relatively small number of practitioners worldwide.

Tung (Taiwanese) Acupuncture.  This system uses the same principles of diagnosis and channel theory but uses a completely distinct set of acupuncture points, which were developed separately to TCM, by Master Tung. This is a relatively new area to Traditional Acupuncture practitioners in the West and is provided by a small number of dedicated students to this “school”. It is often especially useful for resistant or hard-to-treat cases, for example in chronic conditions.
Trigger Point Acupuncture. This is a modern Western interpretation of using acupuncture needles specifically to stimulate muscle fibres. This resultsin the body producing pain-relieving substances, such as endorphins and also affects the body’s hormonal cascade. At Wokingham Wellbeing, it is used for pain and MSK (musculo-skeletal) conditions as an adjunct to the traditional whole-body acupuncture techniques.
Battlefield Acupuncture. Battlefield Acupuncture is a modern interpretation and adaptation of ear acupuncture, developed by an American physician this century. It is called “Battlefield” as it was developed to be used in those situations including the field of battle, when it wasn’t advisable or possible to administer conventional westernpain medications. It is used by the American and NATO military today for Pain. Small (usually gold) semi-permanent needles are placed in the ear at specific points and worn for up to a week. It is very important to confirm that your practitioner has received the proper training and has certification and insurance to perform Battlefield Acupuncture (Alison at One Acupuncture® is fully qualified).
Electro-Acupuncture. This is a relatively recent application of Acupuncture, where a small electrical current is passed between two acupuncture needles, much like a TENS machine delivers a current via pads on the skin. Several pairs of needles can be stimulated at the same time. The advantage of using needles is that the effect can be transmitted deeper into the body. It is commonly used for Pain as it can stimulate spasmed or tight muscles and also for complex joint pain, where it is difficult to manually access the deeper parts of the body. At One Acupuncture® it is also used for fertility, especially where there is pain and/or stagnation in the lower abdomen or difficulty with ovulation.
Electro-Acupuncture. This is a relatively recent application of Acupuncture, where a small electrical current is passed between two acupuncture needles, much like a TENS machine delivers a current via pads on the skin. Several pairs of needles can be stimulated at the same time. The advantage of using needles is that the effect can be transmitted deeper into the body. It is commonly used for Pain as it can stimulate spasmed or tight muscles and also for complex joint pain, where it is difficult to manually access the deeper parts of the body. At One Acupuncture® it is also used for fertility, especially where there is pain and/or stagnation in the lower abdomen or difficulty with ovulation.
Ear (Auricular) Acupuncture. As reflexology uses the feet as a mirror of the whole body, so Acupuncturists can use the ear as a map and make a direct connection with the whole body. There are at least two hundred points on each ear that connect to specific parts of the body via the brain. Ear points can be needled in treatment and small magnets can be placed on the points and worn for up to a week, thereby potentiating the treatment. These are commonly used, for example, for anxiety, insomnia etc. One particular Ear Acupuncture protocol is called NADA (North American Detox Association) and is used to treat a range of emotional and mental health issues.

A note on "medical acupuncture"

In the past 40 years, this has become popular in the West. This is most commonly practiced by osteopaths, physiotherapists etc. as an adjunct to treatment and should really be called “dry needling”. It generally focuses on the musculoskeletal system and “trigger points”. Traditional Acupuncturists may also employ some of these techniques in addition to their BSc (Hons) Acupuncture degree training (a minimum of 3600 hrs degree-level study). Practitioners offering medical acupuncture may only have had a few days training and do not employ the full depth, breadth and beauty of Traditional Acupuncture. It is always recommended you check out the qualifications, experience and approach of a potential therapist and that it meets your needs.

As part of degree level training, Traditional Acupuncturists study Anatomy and Physiology and in particular how to note and take action of what are called “Red Flags” which are signs and symptoms of serious disease. This may result in a patient being referred to a GP or more urgent action.

Tui Na (massage)

Tui Na, (pronounced “twee na”) is a Chinese therapeutic massage, and is a fundamental part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), along with Acupuncture and other techniques. Tui Na is used in many hospitals in China as the first and only choice of healthcare. In the UK, practitioners must first qualify in Acupuncture.

Tui Na (which literally means push and grab) incorporates the TCM theory that injury or disease causes blockages in the channels of the body. Blockages cause pain.

There are up to thirty physical techniques used, such as kneading, chopping, hacking, perpendicular pressure, and rolling fist, which the therapist will use to remove tension/spasm in the muscles and blockages of Qi (“chee”)/or energy in the body.

This makes Tui Na a complete massage, because there are two aspects to it: firstly, just like western massages, it works the muscles helping, it them to relax, removing stagnation and allowing the blood to flow more freely throughout the area, giving the muscle the optimum chance of repairing itself. Secondly, because of its Eastern origins it works with restoring the balance of Qi/energy, which treats the body as one whole. Tui Na presses on certain acupressure points in the body’s meridian system to stimulate the body’s own healing process.

Tui Na is a therapeutic modality in it’s own right, or may commonly be included within an Acupuncture treatment, if this is appropriate to your diagnosis.

Other Techniques

 These are important techniques regularly used at One Acupuncture® and are generally used in addition to Acupuncture, depending on each person’s unique diagnosis and treatment plan.


Cupping therapy is an ancient form of complementary medicine in which a local suction is created on the skin; this is thought to mobilise blood flow in order to promote healing, relieve pain (for example back pain) and remove “heat”, releasing toxins. Suction is created using heat (fire) or mechanical devices (hand or electrical pumps). It can be thought of as the inverse or opposite of massage, as suction on the cups pulls the muscles, tissues and skin apart rather than applying pressure to the same.

Diet & Lifestyle

This advice has always been an integral part of the practice of Traditional East Asian Medicine and is called “Yangsheng” which translates as “Nourishing Life”. It has an important supporting role in your holistic treatment given in the clinic. Advice is rooted in Traditional Medicine and is based on your unique diagnosis. It takes into account your imbalances, the seasons and your constitution.

Gua Sha

Gua Sha is a healing technique of Traditional East Asian Medicine. Sometimes called ‘coining, spooning or scraping’, Gua sha is defined as instrument-assisted unidirectional press-stroking of a lubricated area of the body surface to intentionally create transitory therapeutic petechiae (spots) called ‘Sha’ representing extravasation of blood just under the skin.

Modern research shows Gua Sha produces an anti-inflammatory and immune protective effect that persists for days following a single Gua Sha treatment. This accounts for its effect on pain, stiffness, fever, chill, cough, wheeze, nausea and vomiting etc., and why Gua Sha is effective in acute and chronic internal organ disorders.

Kinesiology (Acupressure) Taping

This is a modern take on using our understanding of the Acupuncture Channel System as well as modern anatomy to place dermatologically tested, breathable tapes on parts of the body. The tape is generally applied “uncompressed” meaning that it is not there to restrict movement (compressed) but it allows and encourages movement in the taped area, which then massages and drains the tissue below, stimulating blood flow and reducing swelling. It can be used in conjunction with magnets that are also placed in the same area as the tape.


Small magnets can be used to support treatment. As they have a polarity (i.e. North/South) they are thought to gently stimulate Acupuncture points, much like acupressure massage would do. The benefit being that you do not need to touch them. They are often used on ear points and on musculo-skeletal trigger points for pain. Magnets come in different strengths depending on where in the body and for what purpose they are being used. There are contra-indications to their use so should not be self-applied.


Moxabustion is the term used for the application of moxa, a Chinese herb made from mugwort leaves (Atemisia vulgaris). The dried herb can be applied directly to the skin or indirectly above it via a needle. It comes in several forms, some more processed than others. It gently smoulders, delivering a therapeutic heat that penetrates into the body and into the channels. Patients find it a deeply relaxing and energising experience. It can be used to treat parts of the body that have stagnation and pain or to nourish and help blood flow. At One Acupuncture® it is used holistically to balance the body and is commonly used for fertility.

Moxabustion is becoming well known for its use in helping to turn breech babies, but this is a specialist technique demanding skilled clinical judgement and it can be contra-indicated in certain cases. It should not be tried without a formal Chinese Medicine based diagnosis and without instruction from a qualified Acupuncturist or other specialist midwife who has had appropriate training. Moxa, tempting as it may be, is a potent medicine and is definitely not DIY.

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