What Does An Acupuncturist Do?

"I am considering a career in the alternative healthcare field, preferably in homeopathy or acupuncture. I’m still confused as to whether I should study one or the other so I’m asking for your help. Can you please give me more information on what an acupuncturist does so I can finally make my choice?"

asked by Belinda T. from Plattsburgh, New York

Acupuncture is an ancient form of treatment that has been used for thousands of years in the East in countries like China, Japan and Korea. It has made its way in the West and is now one of the rapidly growing alternative treatment options in the United States. Doctors who study and are certified to practice this form of traditional oriental medicine treatment are known as acupuncturists. It is commonly known as the treatment form that uses sterile needles inserted in specific points in body to free blocked energy and promote healing. As we shall see later on, needles are just one mode of treatment that acupuncturists can provide.

Acupuncturists have one goal in treating patients: To restore the balance, harmony and order in the body that has been disrupted by disease, stress and poor diet, among other factors. In order to do this, acupuncturists need to assess the patient, understand his condition using various conceptual frameworks and then apply the different therapeutic techniques to facilitate healing.

Acupuncturists first examine the patient by assessing his tongue, body type, skin and hair luster, posture and movement. They also listen to the patient’s breathing, voice and smell as well as palpate his pulse, abdomen and meridian.

They would also take the patient’s medical history and get information from him about his sleep and elimination patterns, diet and digestion and any pain felt, among others.

After the assessment has been performed, acupuncturists then use their knowledge of oriental medicine’s conceptual frameworks to make sense of the patient’s condition. Western medicine approaches diagnosis differently than oriental medicine which seeks to provide treatment for the whole person using what they know about homeostasis or the balance of Yin and Yang, the roles and relationships of internal organs, the endogenous and exogenous factors of disease and the meridian theory, among others.

The final aspect of the job of acupuncturists involves providing the therapeutic techniques to bring about healing. Needling or the insertion of sterilized, single-use needles in various points of the body to free blocked energy and allow “qi” to circulate more freely is the most common method of treatment associated with acupuncture. It’s not the only one used by acupuncturists. They also perform moxibustion which entails applying moxa on top of the acupuncture points directly or indirectly.

In addition to needling and moxibustion, acupuncturists also perform blood moving approaches like cupping, dermal fractioning and bloodletting. Used mainly to heal high fevers and respiratory issues, blood moving techniques improve circulation by breaking the blood congestion in surface capillaries. Acupuncturists may also use traditional massage, polarity devices and frequency approaches to facilitate healing. They may require patients to undergo a certain number of sessions before they can feel relief.

Career Spotlight: Acupuncturist

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