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McMaster Contemporary Medical Acupuncture Gray Line

An Education in Acupuncture

by Dr. Alejandro Elorriaga Claraco on November 1, 2009

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By Chris O’Connor RMT, DO-MTP, Prov CMA

As an RMT I am always on the lookout for training programmes that will not only help to fulfill my CEU quota, but will also afford the opportunity to learn something valuable that will encourage me to become a better practitioner. I was introduced to Contemporary Medical Acupuncture by a class mate of mine during Osteopathic training. At the time I had limited knowledge of the practice of acupuncture, how it worked and its potential benefits. I decided to do some research about the differences between the various schools of thought regarding acupuncture.

For RMTs interested in this ancient healing art form, there is quite a wide range of education options available. For those wanting to add another professional title to their resume, five year training is available in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Programmes that focus strictly on acupuncture training for health care professionals are usually between two and three hundred hours and leave much of the TCM behind. Whether interested in the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach or the more ‘contemporary’ neuro-anatomical acupuncture, courses of varying lengths can be completed without interrupting your practice.

I chose the McMaster programme because of its careful focus on treatments for pain of musculoskeletal and visceral origin – treatments that have enjoyed clinically reliable and reproducible results. I was interested in the examination of musculoskeletal dysfunction, and further consideration of symptoms associated with abnormal autonomic nervous system activity and endocrine/exocrine dysfunction. The course, based on a whole body approach to treatment, embodies a philosophy shared by Massage, Osteopathic and Chiropractic schools alike.

My training in acupuncture began with an introduction to the safety standards and mechanisms of ‘pain free’ needle insertion. Rather than bombarding with a whirlwind of 400 traditional acupuncture points, the course delineated 181 of the most neurophysiologically relevant. Some of the first points needled, Governing Vessel 20 at the apex of the head for example, were carefully chosen for easy location and low risk of provoking discomfort. Initial classes include review of the anatomy and innervation of the extremities and axial skeleton. This review is the cornerstone for developing an understanding of how and why the needles work. Introductory lectures also discussed the well known auricular systems and important landmarks of the head and face.

The course included trips to the anatomy lab which were always inspiring and incredibly valuable for review of the acupuncture points and the clinically relevant underlying structures that can be treated with the needles. Practical classes made up the majority of any weekend providing the most meaningful learning tool and the best way to obtain clinical pearls from the variety of instructors. The student to instructor ratio was low allowing for strong group focus. Near onlookers gave students the chance to have specific questions answered and to quickly gain greater confidence in needling technique.

Contemporary Acupuncture teaches electrical stimulation as a tool for increasing the neuro-modulatory power of needling. Coupling the newly acquired knowledge of applied electrical stimulation with the solid review of the nervous system, we learned how to base our treatments on modulating the peripheral nerves from their spinal roots to their terminal ends. Rather than merely treating locally, we learned how to have far greater treatment results by treating along nervous pathways. Different electrical frequencies are used to treat different tissues. Joint capsules, ligaments and tendons can handle and benefit from higher frequencies, while muscle bellies and systemic regulatory points need the subtler, lower frequencies. Students are encouraged to follow up all acupuncture with manual treatment of the soft tissues and joints to allow for full integration of the treatment’s positive effects.

As a graduate of the McMaster CMA programme I have to mention how greatly I appreciated the practical and clinical aspects of the training. The strong foundation in neurophysiology and neuroanatomy acquired by the end of the program has been vital to the successful incorporation of acupuncture into my practice. Having the opportunity to work with other health professionals including physicians, chiropractors, physiotherapists, naturopathic doctors, athletic therapists, and nurses was invaluable. I came away from the course with a new understanding about how important cooperation will be to the future of health care and was encouraged to carry this multidisciplinary cooperative spirit into my treatment rooms.

Upon completion of the main course I carried on to attend several of the advanced training courses. These programmes offer a greater focus on the specifics of treatment and assessment of musculoskeletal disorders, TMJ dysfunction and the treatment of headaches and stress related problems. My training was so successful and my enthusiasm so great I am now proud to be the first RMT asked to be a full-time instructor for the course.

Acupuncture Training for RMTs in Ontario
In July, 2000 the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (CMTO) granted its members the right to perform acupuncture during massage treatments. According to the World Health Organization acupuncture means, simply, to puncture with a needle but what does acupuncture mean to an RMT? Because acupuncture can be expected to benefit the soft tissues and joints of the body, it is accordingly considered an effective manipulation that falls within the guidelines of the Massage Therapy Act.

What training is required in order to be properly performing this new manipulation? To date, the CMTO has not published specific educational requirements for RMTs in Ontario wishing to integrate acupuncture into their practices. The College does require that prospective acupuncture training programs submit their full curriculum for review in order to establish that they fall within the standards of practice for the profession. A list of the approved acupuncture education programs can be found on the CMTO website, at www.cmto.com in the Standards and Regulations/Policies section.

As health practitioners we notice that every client responds in a unique way to treatment, no two are exactly alike. Broadening our scope of practice to include acupuncture lengthens the list of clients we can reach. As individuals we know that we all learn in different ways, and there are a variety of acupuncture courses available to accommodate learning and scheduling needs. The practice of peripheral nerve stimulation with acupuncture needles can be a valuable skill for practitioners to add to their ‘tool belt’ of complementary therapies. After enjoying the extremely successful integration of contemporary acupuncture into my massage practice, I would encourage others RMTs to pursue acupuncture training that meets their and their client’s needs.

Published by Massage Therapy Today, November 2009

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