The Korea Herald


Acupuncture: Oriental or Western?

By 배지숙

Published : May 15, 2011 - 19:11

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Should acupuncture be exclusive to Oriental medicine or a general practice for Western medics too?

The medical field is in uproar over the Supreme Court’s ruling that Western medical doctors’ practice of acupuncture-related IMS violates Medical Law. While some Western doctors claim that IMS is a legitimate Westernized form of acupuncture popular throughout the world, Oriental doctors are seeking to take the ruling as an opportunity to promote acupuncture as their exclusive domain.

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled against a doctor identified by his family name, Uhm, who had his license suspended for 45 days for using acupuncture needles on his patients in 2004. According to the court file, when a local public health care center and police investigated his clinic, seven patients were lying down with needles stuck all over their bodies under infrared lights irradiators.

“Since all the spots pinned were body energy meridians according to the Oriental medical books, the practice could be referred as an Oriental medical treatment, which is guaranteed to Oriental doctors only,” the court ruled, striking down a lower court’s decision in favor of the doctor who appealed the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s suspension of his license.

Uhm insisted that his practice was IMS, intramuscular stimulation. It is used as a treatment for chronic pain conditions that occur in the musculoskeletal system, according to the Sitka Physio & Wellness clinic’s definition.

IMS is grounded in Western medical science but is believed to be heavily inspired by the Oriental medicine, where it uses acupuncture needles to penetrate deep inside muscle tissues, to target injured muscles that have contracted due to distress. It has rapidly gained popularity among Western doctors, especially those dealing with spinal areas.

The Association of Korean Oriental Medicine on Friday welcomed the ruling.

“The court has showed that any acupuncture practice conducted by other than Oriental doctors is illegal,” the association spokesman Chang Dong-min said.

“For nearly a decade, the Western medicine has attempted to intrude the Oriental medical field in the name of IMS. It is time they showed modesty,” he added.

Some Western doctors admitted that Uhm’s deeds could be regarded as an illegal Oriental medical practice.

“All the needles were involved in meridians. Had his practice been based on muscles, joints and others as indicated by Western medicine, the ruling might have been different,” a member of the Korean Society for Anesthetic Pharmacology was quoted by saying to a local daily.

The Korean Medical Association, the largest interest group of doctors, also requested the government screen the effect of the IMS practice.

“The government should make the final call. The ruling was all about whether Uhm’s individual practice was illegal, not the legitimacy of IMS itself,” the KMA stated.

By Bae Ji-sook (