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Explained: Traditional vs. Neurofunctional Acupuncture

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

While this at first glance these modalities look strikingly similar, where small thin needles are inserted into various points in the body, considerable differences exist between each.

A quick overview of the key differences is highlighted below. If you have time or want a more in-depth understanding of how each modality specifically works, keep scrolling and we've got you covered!

Neurofunctional (Medical) Acupuncture: your practitioner (physician, physiotherapist, chiropractor etc.) treats you only after a conventional medical/neurofunctional diagnosis has been made, following a conventional (scientific) view. The practitioner will use acupuncture as a treatment modality along with other therapeutic approaches, as needed.

Traditional Acupuncture: follows the traditional Chinese approach following a diagnosis in terms of complex theories regarding disturbance in the body’s balance, characterized by excess or deficiency with respect to what are considered the five elements, water, fire, earth, metal and wood, that needs to be corrected with needles.

Contemporary/Neurofunctional Medical Acupuncture Neurofunctional Medical Acupuncture, also know as Contemporary Acupuncture, takes an ancient therapy and re-defines its mechanisms and effects using present-day scientific understanding of human physiology and neuroanatomy. At first glance, this may look strikingly sim

ilar to traditional Chinese acupuncture, as small thin needles are inserted into various points in the body, including hands, feet and scalp, and left in place for a period of time before removal. However, in contemporary acupuncture, your practitioner (physician, physiotherapist, chiropractor etc.) will use their knowledge of neuroanatomy and physiology to chose the most relevant needle insertion sites in order to treat your injury. The contemporary neurofunctional acupuncture practitioner uses acupuncture needles as a therapeutic tool to target the function of your muscles and nerves. Acupuncture needle insertion produces certain local tissue effects such as analgesia, muscle relaxation and help to promote bloodflow to the region to assist your body’s capacity to heal itself. More wide-reaching effects of acupuncture include restoring function to the spinal reflexes that control, initiate or inhibit movement of our body as well as central regulatory effects on the nervous system regarding pain perception. Gentle electrical stimulation of your muscles and nerves (which feels like a gentle tapping) may be used at certain points to enhance the effect of the treatment and act as a “reset” button for your nervous system to restore normal movement patterns and normal pain perception in your injured area.

Who is a good candidate for contemporary/neurofunctional medical acupuncture? Any person with an acute or chronic musculoskeletal injury, or injury related pain or dysfunction, can be a candidate for neurofunctional medical acupuncture. This modality is an excellent adjunct to treating musculoskeltal pain, pain related dysfunction or limitations in motion, and optimization of function in an injured limb for sport or athletic performance.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture An acupuncturist practising Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) makes a unique TCM diagnosis in terms of theories regarding disturbance in the body’s balance and flow of “qi” (energy) along various meridian channels in the body, named after various body organs. These imbalances will often be characterized by excess or deficiency with respect to yin, yang, as well as what are considered to be the five primal elements: water, fire, earth, metal and wood. Traditional Chinese acupuncturists subscribe to the theory that certain points in the body are characterized by specific imbalances in the above agents and that needling these sites with acupuncture needles can help to restore balance and the flow of energy throughout the body, thus restoring normal body function.​ Here at Integrate, acupuncture and TCM are most often used to treat:

  • Pain

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Musculoskeletal pain - strains and repetitive strain disorders, tendinopathies, tight muscles)

  • Arthritis

  • Fatigue

  • Allergies

  • Menstrual disorders

  • Digestive disorders (irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, chronic constipation/diarrhea)


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