A form of acupuncture is getting popular and more acceptable to mainstream western medicine. So much so, in Hong Kong's public hospitals, acupuncture has been a standard treatment method in their physiotherapy departments, used in conjunction with other standard physiotherapy techniques. And it is used in pain-management as well as in mobility-management. However, treating acupuncture as an alternative medicine for cases other than pain management still belongs to the Chinese Medicine Schools in Hong Kong, which operate with different theory and philosophy from mainstream western medical practices.
Courses of introductory tai-chi and other chi-related exercises have also been running continuously in Hong Kong's public hospitals. These course are very popular. Convalescent patients, including those still undergoing physiotherapy treatment, attend these courses. In other words, tai-chi is not classified as a procedure for medical treatment in the hospitals, i.e. not being operated by the physiotherapy department. It is interesting to ask the question: Why such difference?
The central concept and theory behind acupuncture is that the needles will stimulate points along the chi/muscle meridians resulting in subtle movements of the patient's otherwise unmovable or involuntary muscles/ligaments/tendons. Such subtle muscles movements, if properly managed, can reduce local pain or enhance local mobility. One application is for the management of knee pain, where exercise of a patient's bigger muscle groups can do limited help.
Recently I read an article written by a tai-chi teacher in USA sharing his experience of visiting an acupuncturist for his own back pain. It does give me some surprise because I have been coaching people zhan zhuang (a foundation practice of tai-chi) to cure their back pain, and with much success! It turned out that the article is one of humor, rather than on the efficacy of the discipline.
Anyway, the main difference of using acupuncture and tai-chi as healing is that the former does not depend on the active participation of the patient (or subject or client). The only requirement is that the patient should lie down and relax. If it works, it works, if it doesn't, it doesn't! Conceptually it is in line with what is being called (mainstream) medical practice.
In contrast, using tai-chi or zhan zhuang to cure, say, back pain will involve an active participation of the practitioner. If a practitioner can be lead into the zone, his or her inner chi can be released and be transformed into a powerful force and can work on the core and minor muscles to eliminate pain as well as maintain an upright posture for the practitioner. It can be very powerful, with one caveat: active participation is required.
Reference article: A permanent cure to back pain