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Combining Acupuncture and Medication: A Holistic Approach to Treatment



Acupuncture, while effective, is not a cure-all. It represents just one form of external stimulus in the intricate regulation of the human "black box." In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture is a specialized branch coexisting with herbal medicine. When acupuncture alone yields suboptimal results, combining it with herbal (internal) treatments often significantly boosts efficacy, and vice versa.


Despite the oldest TCM classics, "Suwen" (Basic Questions) and "Lingshu" (Spiritual Pivot), emphasizing acupuncture more than herbal medicine, the overall history of TCM shows a heavier reliance on herbs. Texts like "Shang Han Lun" (Treatise on Cold Damage Diseases) and "Jin Gui Yao Lue" (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Casket), are crucial to herbalists, and others like "Qian Jin Yao Fang" (Thousand Golden Essential Prescriptions) and "Wai Tai Mi Yao" (Arcane Essentials from the Imperial Library) dedicate more content to herbs than acupuncture. This marked the beginning of the separation between these two TCM therapies. Many herbalists do not practice acupuncture, and vice versa, which has historically limited the potential therapeutic benefits.


Each method has its strengths: herbal medicine excels in areas where acupuncture might not reach, and acupuncture offers advantages where herbs may fall short. The integration of both methods is considered complete TCM treatment. As the ancient text "Jiu Zhi Sheng Jing" (Classic of Moxibustion) states, a good physician should not rely solely on acupuncture or moxibustion, nor exclusively on medicine.


The decision to prioritize acupuncture or medication in combined treatment depends on the practitioner's expertise and the severity and urgency of the disease. Typically, acupuncture is preferred for surface body pains, while internal pains may be better treated with herbal supplements. Acute conditions might benefit from initial acupuncture, whereas chronic conditions could be simultaneously addressed with herbal medicine. Herbs can be used where acupuncture is less effective, and vice versa.


Chinese herbs can be internal (like decoctions and pills) or external (like plasters, topical herbs, or iontophoresis with TCM herbs). A classic example of combined treatment is for wind-cold common colds: acupuncture at the Fengchi (GB20) point along with oral administration of "Gui Zhi Tang" (Cinnamon Twig Decoction). Each method can induce sweating individually, but together, they offer enhanced effectiveness. This dual approach also offers convenience for patients who cannot regularly attend acupuncture sessions.


In conclusion, combining acupuncture with herbal medication offers a more comprehensive and potentially effective treatment strategy, accommodating a wider range of conditions and enhancing the overall healing process.

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