Acupuncture Related Research- Key Issues and Concerns
In this scientific era tested results, proof that something is effective, is often valued over first hand experience. Western research relies upon standardized protocol and isolating variables, so as to obtain reliable results. This is a legitimate and understandable approach when desiring concrete and repeatable outcomes. However, when utilizing this method to test the validity of acupuncture, this approach can create erroneous and misleading results. One of the strengths of acupuncture lies in its ability to individualize treatments. Asian medicine views the person as a whole and does not isolate symptoms when treating. Since every person with a specific syndrome will have a different pattern diagnostic, it is inappropriate to give the same treatment. Why? … because the internal cause of a disease is unique to the individual. We aren’t all the same.
It gives misleading results when acupuncture related research standardizes treatments for specific aliments. This approach essentially turns acupuncture protocols into a Western medicine approach to treatment; in which, just like a prescription medicine that would be given for a specific ailment, a certain acupuncture protocol is given. Although research done in this way has shown some positive results for acupuncture treatments, it is still an incorrect way to approach acupuncture treatment protocols. An aspect of what makes acupuncture and Asian medicine such a powerful tool is because of its ability to custom fit treatments to the individual’s needs. Since the individualized treatment is not measurable or repeatable amongst a group, it is hard to fit traditional acupuncture into the Western scientific approach. It is kind of like trying to fit a circular peg into a square hole.
When standardized regiments are given, there is the possibility that the treatments will be inappropriate to the specific individual’s in a study. This is especially true if an individual is very weak. If an aggressive treatment protocol is utilized on a weak patient, it can further aggravate their syndrome. Therefore, standardized protocols should be used with discretion. Since there is an ethical concern in mistreating a patient, research done with set protocols should be examined closely before implemented.
When acupuncture treatments are standardized, significant diagnostic tools, such as tongue and pulse diagnosis are not utilized. These tools are viewed by most practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine as an essential aspect of providing a correct treatment that is tailored to fit the individual. Also, some acupuncture research has tested for therapeutic results utilizing incorrect procedures and/or lengths of treatment. There have been a number of studies that have tested a single point only, rather than a group of points as is traditionally done. Also, many studies have administered acupuncture treatments for 15 minutes or less and/or only given one treatment rather than a group of treatments. This length of time and amount of treatments may not be enough to elicit a true therapeutic result. These are significant issues that need to be addressed within the acupuncture related research that is currently being done, because an incorrect treatment has the potential to give false and misleading results.
I have recently heard about some research that has allowed the acupuncturists to do a differential diagnosis and individualized treatment for each patients within the research project. This approach offers a more adequate representation of the effectiveness of acupuncture and though it has a weakness in repeatability and isolating variables amongst a group, can offer greater reliability of results as to the efficacy of acupuncture. It is my hope that, in the years to come, acupuncture related research will make it a standard practice to allow for differential diagnosis and correct treatment protocols.
written by: Yasmin Spencer LAc, DAOM
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