top of page


Top 10 Misconception of Chinese Medicine (Part 2)

by Allen Tsaur, updated on 5/04/2017

6. I had acupuncture, it worked wonderfully, so I stopped receiving treatments. Then my symptoms came back. It only work if I keep getting acupuncture

This again depends on each individual's conditions. As an intervention, an acupuncture's direct treatment effect lasts in average 24-72 hours. Yet, its indirect effect may last for months, especially in treatments that aim to address the root conditions or constitution - which is preventative medicine in its own right.  

Most modern studies into acupuncture actually test the subject’s condition several months after the treatment and consistently find that the effects of acupuncture stay with them for a while. For chronic problems however, patients often continue to keep a regular schedule because acupuncture continues to help.  

7. My practitioner only uses x needles, he does not even needle my knee when I have knee pain! I think he is trying to rip me off!!

More is not always better. There are many medical considerations why I want to use many or I want to use few needles.


As fine a needle is, it is still a direct intervention where the patient may experience some pain or stress. In addition, acupuncture's therapeutic effect is based solely on the body's reaction to the stimulation by the needles - this in fact exhausts energy, at least initially. So when a patient is weak, his/her body simply cannot afford too much stimulation. In these cases, patients are generally treated with few needles, less retaining time, more moxibustion, or even infrared therapy.

Another consideration is, fewer needles tend to provide a cleaner message - to both the patient's body as to which stimulation it should react to, and to the clinician as to what works and what does not work. It actually takes more confidence and knowledge to use fewer needles, as a clinician should always strive to cover more symptoms with fewer needles in order to lessen the patient's pain, not the other way around.

As to the needling on seemingly irrelevant site, there is a saying in Chinese:

"An inferior practitioner treats the head whenever there is headache, treats the legs whenever there is leg pain."

By such definition, if a person has knee pain and the practitioner needles him around the injured knee, then he is a inferior practitioner.

In acupuncture, there are five major channel systems that exist in different depth and in different anatomical tissues. In order of depth, there are the twelve sinew channels, the twelve primary channels, the fifteen Luo vessels, the twelve divergent channels, and the eight extraordinary channels. All of which connect with one another within and across the systems. When combining all systems together, they make up the entirety of the human anatomical and functional body.

[add picture here] 

It is only when a practitioner grasps a complete understanding of this anatomical/functional picture, he realizes that one far end of the body treats the other far end of the body - this could be based on the understanding of the channel connection, and from learning the empirical function of the point. As before, it is much harder to select a remote point than a local one to address a symptom. Again, if you encounter a practitioner treating knee pain with a needle in the arm and a needle in the foot dorsal surface - give him a shot, he is doing something quite magical there. 

Besides, since a treatment is never charged by how many needles inserted & the needles have a extremely low cost (less than a nickle each needle), the number and location of the needles should not constitute grounds for a practitioner to rip off his patient. It, however, does reflect his clinical reasoning and knowledge.

8. The “Natural is safe” and “Natural is better” myths

I hear this quite often. This is a very dangerous misconception.

Safety-wise, natural products could kill you if they are misused, or just plain out toxic. Just like poison ivy is not safe or better just because it is natural. 

Natural is not always better - there are conditions that I would definitely recommend allopathic intervention in place of Chinese, holistic, natural medicine. In the view of Chinese medicine, there is no such thing as natural vs. artificial. There are only inherent properties and functions. Antibiotics and aspirin can achieve something traditional medicine could not, and they have 


Since safety is mentioned here, many would question about the herb quality as they are mostly cultivated and processed in China. 

10. Classical herbalism vs. civilian herbalism

This is addressing specifically toward Asian population. Allegedly, since the time of Yi Yin (???) authored the first ever herbal Classic, 湯液經, herbal medicine has become a part of daily life in Chinese culture, If you ever converse with someone from Guangdong (sorry for the stereotype), you would be baffled by their knowledge of herbal medicine - when to eat what, how to eat what, and what addresses what - amazingly, with every day food items.

The question that begs: is this really medicine in its purest form, or has it been mixed by the culture, especially by that of a cuisine culture? 

Based on the lack of diagnosis and medical decision making, I would doubt about it. Furthermore, in Chinese medicine, there is a huge division between 官方 "Official Formulations" and 驗方 "Experiential Formulations", as well as to 中藥 "Chinese Herb" and 草藥 "Grass Herb." In short here are their main attributes.


官方 "Official Formulations" are based on historically institutionalized formulations that all herbal practitioners must learn, which contributed to hundreds if not thousands of historical commentaries and cultivated into a massive pool of clinical data in writing.


驗方 "Experiential Formulations" are based on the experience of a sole or few practitioners in limited capacity. They are generally not well known, and not much may be known about the formulation besides the writing of the author(s). They also generally utilize local herbs that may be hard to obtain in another region.


中藥 "Chinese Herbs" are herbs utilized in the institutionalized formulations, Their properties, functions, usages are well documented like their official formulations with the support of a massive human trial. These are generally stronger in therapeutic actions. Most of these may not be easily obtainable as they are meant for medical purposes. You typically will not even see them in an herb shop unless you specifically order them, just like perscription drug vs. on-counter drugs.

草藥 "Grass Herbs" are generally herbs that one can easily obtain in their garden or park. They tend to be localized herbs that are consumed fresh and alone, and tend to be weaker in therapeutic effect (thus a large dosage is often utilized). cultural revolution brought it up

This is not to discount the validity of 驗方 "Experiential Formulations" and 草藥 "Grass Herbs" - as I utilized some grass herbs from time to time. But I just prefer a more solid backing of the institutionalized brothers, whom many have tried, have failed, have developed insights - from which I can step on. So next time when someone

Chinese herbs contain heavy metals and are heavily adulterated and are unsafe for consumption

Herb-drug interaction


4. So acupuncture doesn’t conflict with medication?
Acupuncture is a safe and natural way to remedy many of our bodies problems and in some cases is more effective than prescription drugs but is also a powerful adjunctive to other medications. In one study on patients with recurring migraines, subjects that had acupuncture as well as their medication had half as many migraines as the subjects who only took their medication. 

6. Are there any side effects to Acupuncture? 
Acupuncture has very few, if any, side effects and is easy to fit into your everyday life. Getting acupuncture won’t mean you have to take time off work to recover and can lead to higher productivity as it reduces stress levels. Because there are no chemical medications involved you don’t need to worry about the side effects commonly associated with prescription medication. 

7. Does it only work if you keep getting acupuncture?
Not at all. Often the effects of a few good sessions can last for months after you’ve stopped going. Most modern studies into acupuncture actually test the subject’s condition several months after the treatment and consistently find that the effects of acupuncture stay with them for a while. For chronic problems however, patients often continue to keep a regular schedule because acupuncture continues to help.  

bottom of page