What is to be made of the dark circles that appear on athlete’s shoulders, backs and arms at the Olympics?
If you’re like some of the commentators on NBC you take one look and say “no thank you”.
If you’re an acupuncturist you puff your chest, you’ve been vindicated. Taking to social media to say “I told you so”.
If you’re a PT, massage therapist, or other health care professional you’ve either just ordered your first set of cups or tweeting the “western” scientific explanation, while cautiously pointing out that “more research is needed” but still encouraging patients to try it.
This is just the latest flare up of the debate between “Eastern” and “Western” approaches to techniques like Acupuncture, Cupping, the use of Soft Tissue tools that have been introduced to North America and Europe in the last few decades principally by Chinese Medicine but were practiced in many primitive cultures across continents with documented examples in Europe and Africa.
The debate includes the rationale and appropriate use of Needle Therapy (acupuncture vs dry needling), instruments used in soft tissue therapy (Gua Sha vs IASTM) and of course Cupping.
It is a debate that will likely persist.
As an acupuncturist, trained at an American Acupuncture School with a keen eye for the thought leaders in “other fields” such as Thomas Meyers, Gray Cook, Andreo Spina, Shirley Sharman, etc. and from whom I have learned just as much about Chinese Medicine as I have from Acupuncture School, I can’t help but feel that this is one big turf war predicated on two things:
Acupuncturist’s misunderstanding of both Chinese Medicine and Science
Conventional Healthcare providers misunderstanding of both Chinese Medicine and Science
(we have the same problem)
These misunderstandings, as I see it, are the result of two assumptions:
Assumption #1: Chinese medicine is based on a metaphysical, yet to be identified “energy”
Assumption #2: The Scientific Method is meant to deliver certainty
Rather than alienating each other I think there is common ground that both camps can stand on to further develop our understanding of how to best help our patients and make the most out of these safe, effective and increasingly popular techniques.
Three Points to set the stage for future Articles
Chinese Medicine is best described, not as a belief system, religion or placebo effect but as as a Proto-Science concerned with the cyclical movement of the natural world. The principles and theories put forth in Chinese Medicine perhaps most closely resemble Dynamical Systems Theory and what the famous mathematician and scientist Benoit Mandelbrot described as the Fractal Geometry of Nature.
Unless we are dealing with pharmaceuticals which operate in the one-ligand-one-receptor arena and have a definitive, objective outcome measure (ie viral load) we are going beat our heads against the wall examining clinician administered techniques (cupping, acupuncture, manipulation, mobilization, etc.) especially if our outcome measure is something like pain, arguably the most subjective and impossible to quantify measure in the health sciences using Randomized Controlled Trials, Meta-Analyses and Systematic Reviews.
I think the most likely candidate for establishing common ground amongst Manual Therapists, Chinese Medicine Practitioners, Physios, etc. who share modalities like acupuncture, cupping and soft tissue tools is the little known (but widely applicable) concept of Hormesis - The phenomenon or condition of a substance or other agent having a beneficial physiological effect at low levels of exposure even though toxic or otherwise harmful at higher levels