DAO Labs Co-Founder and Chief Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine periodically shares observations from his research as a current Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan. Consider these a "reporter's notebook" that chronicle the ways in which Chinese medicine is being practiced at some of the most prestigious clinics in the world.
Treating Chronic Pain, and Stroke Recovery, with Acupuncture
Ever since returning from China to start an acupuncture practice in the United States more than 20 years ago, I have noticed that acupuncture is understood very differently in China than in the US. As an example, acupuncture is widely used in China and East Asia to help with stroke recovery.
In the US, this use of acupuncture seems to be almost unknown. I saw stroke victims every day in clinics in China. In 20 years of practice in North Carolina, I have had just a couple such patients in my clinic. Conversely, chronic pain patients make up the majority of my practice in the US. They are far fewer such patients in China.
These differences raise the question about what acupuncture is best suited to treat. The answer to this question may vary widely according to the skill and training of the acupuncturist. My stay in Taiwan has confirmed this point, as I have discovered acupuncturists here treating an array of illnesses that I only rarely encountered in the past.
Acupuncture and Pediatric Conditions
One intriguing doctor that I have had the opportunity to follow in Taiwan – I shall call him Dr. Lai – specializes in treating difficult pediatric conditions, such cerebral palsy, developmental delay, autism, epilepsy, genetic disorders, and so on. Previously, I would have assumed that many of these conditions are beyond the reach of acupuncture and best addressed through herbs. But Dr. Lai has made me reconsider those presumptions, with his unique approach.
His pediatric patients range in age from 18 months to 18 years, but the majority are six years or younger. Dr. Lai’s treatments for focus on various styles of scalp acupuncture, with some occasional quick pricks on the face and limbs. If kids are too scared of needles, he will switch to a laser pen as a substitute.
His treatments for adults would be relatively familiar to most acupuncturists because they are based on the twelve major meridians. But with children, particularly those with complex developmental and cognitive delays, the majority of his needles are inserted into the scalp - only a small number are used on the body. This technique makes is possible to leave the needles inserted in the scalp for anywhere to 40 – 60 minutes. Points on the body are treated with either a quick prick of the skin, or with a laser pen.
As I have gotten to know some of the families, it has been clear to me that they admire Dr. Lai and consider his treatments to be very helpful. Many of them travel from faraway corners of the island to get weekly acupuncture sessions for their children. Dr. Lai’s devoted patients are a reminder that we frequently do not know the limits of what is possible with acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. Sometimes it is just a matter of knowing the best approach.