Over the past 5 years, I have been continually asked by patients and friends, “What is Acupuncture and how does it work?” To some extent, this question is as hard to answer as “How does the national economy work?” or “ Why is health care so expensive”? The fact of the matter is that Acupuncture encompasses many things and is practiced many different ways depending on the country or style of Acupuncture in which you are trained.
Acupuncture, simply stated, is a health science that is used to successfully treat both pain and dysfunction in the body (sound similar to Chiropractic?). The roots of Acupuncture have a firm foundation in Chinese history – at least 2,000 to 3,000 years. Though its exact age is vague, what is certain is that up until the recent twentieth century, much of the world population was uninformed about Acupuncture. Acupuncture underwent a great downturn when the Republic of China was formed in 1911 and the desire to adopt Western Medicine caused traditional medicine to be all but abolished by 1929. The resurgence of Acupuncture in China came after WWII. Much credit for the renaissance should be given to Mao Tse Tung. It was under his rule that Acupuncture was given the status of a “national treasure” and he promoted more thorough study and elevated its use to a higher level. After the Zhou-Nixon summit in 1972, Acupuncture was reintroduced to the West as embargos were lifted and travel and trade opened up between the two countries. It’s popularity rose quickly in the United States, and it is realizing an ever increasing popularity as people seek alternatives to Western/Allopathic medicine.
Acupuncture is traditionally thought of as the “insertion of needles” into the body at certain points. Most people do not realize that Acupuncture actually consists of 4 aspects: 1) Meridian Therapy, 2) Tuina (Massage and Manipulation), 3) Herbology, and 4) Spiritual/Exercise (Meditation/Tai Chi). Since most are interested in the “needles”, I will restrict this talk to the issue of Meridian Therapy today.
Acupuncture (Meridian Therapy) deals with homeostasis (balance of Yin and Yang), which is the body’s ability to maintain balance. Life takes place in the alternating rhythm of Yin and Yang. Yin/Yang is a constant, continual flow back and forth (ie. flowers open and close, moon waxes and wanes, tide rises and falls, wake and sleep, breathe in, breathe out). When such a proper balance of “life force” or “Qi (roughly pronounced “chee”) is attained, the body is in a state of homeostasis. When a person’s energy is out of balance (electro-magnetically), he/she becomes ill and expresses specific symptoms. Qi (electro-magnetic energy) is said to travel throughout the body along channels called “meridians”. The flow of Qi in the meridian system is very similar to a radio, in that radio waves likewise cannot be seen by the human eye. But, we all understand that they do in fact exist. Meridian Acupuncture and the flow of Qi energy compares to radio in that if a city has 12 radio stations, much like our 12 meridians, it is imperative that each specific station broadcast at its individual frequency. In other words if a station is operating at 94.5 on the dial it comes in loud and clear, however if it comes in at 94.4 or 94.6 the radio broadcast is only static. There is nothing wrong with the radio only the fine-tuning is out of adjustment. A simple adjustment to the radio will bring it into full balance and normal rhythm.
So what about the acupuncture meridians themselves? Most people have never heard of such an unusual concept. They are basically knowledgeable about nerves, blood vessels, muscles, etc, which one can visualize and actually demonstrate hard evidence of their existence. Suddenly, they are expected to understand and accept a concept of the invisible meridians which carry invisible Qi energy. The patient is quick to question if this were the case, why wouldn’t my medical doctor know about this? He/She knows about everything else. Science has seen the nucleus of the cell and beyond, why would they not know of the meridian system if it exists? The patient has never encountered anything that seems so mystical regarding the human body, suddenly they are being asked to accept with blind faith a concept which goes beyond their general understanding of anatomy and physiology.
When I explain the meridian system of the body, first off I show them a graphic of a meridian for example the Hand Shao Yang (Gallbladder) meridian. I explain to them that even though the ancients recognized and discovered the meridian system thousands of years ago, science today is recognizing the electro magnetic potential of the body which is what the meridian system is based on. Today we have electrical muscle exams (EMG’s), magnetic resonance imaging, PET and SPECT scans that map and quantify the electrical and magnetic activity of the body. (As an aside, if you have your gallbladder removed you still have a Gallbladder Meridian!)
The first step in evaluating the patient in Traditional Chinese Medicine is to palpate and “read’ the 12 pulses of the wrist. These 12 pulses correspond to the twelve Main Meridians of the body (Lung, Large Intestine, Small Intestine, Heart, Pericardium, Triple Heater, Spleen, Liver, Kidney, Bladder, Gall Bladder, and Stomach). The meridians are named for the major organ that it controls or where the meridian line runs to or through. Most patients are often skeptical as to this concept of 12 pulses. If the pulses do in fact exist, why doesn’t their medical doctor know about this? Science and medical school would surely have discovered the six pulses in each wrist. Is it only acupuncturists who know about this? Why?
Your beliefs and understanding of these concepts are usually challenged at this point. That is why when I am verifying and formulating treatment protocol and diagnosis, I like to do it with the aid of Electro Meridian Imaging (EMI) instead of pulse diagnosis. EMI, of course, is electronic evaluation of the Yuan/Source points for the primary meridians (and evaluation of the Jing Well points for the musculo-tendino meridians). The EMI evaluation measures the body’s electro magnetic resistance or activity at key acupoints. This, in conjunction with other Acupuncture physical examination analysis, will determine if a meridian is within or outside the accepted boundaries of the body by either being too high, too low, extremely split from left to right or ideally, within normal limits. With EMI the patient is able to see the graphic interpretation on either the computer screen or on the printed graph. The use of EMI does not in any way offset any TCM findings which may be at the root of the issue. However, it allows the patient to have a much better understanding of electro magnetic balance and what may occur when each meridian becomes challenged. When the patient leaves with a diagnosis of “Damp Heat in the Gallbladder” and “Phlegm misting the Heart”, it is extremely difficult for the patient to relay this information to others as they most likely do not understand it themselves. The use of EMI allows evaluation of the patient through TCM concepts while at the same time the patient feels comfortable knowing that high technology and scientific evaluation of the meridian system is being used. I have found that the person can relate much more to modern instrumentation than they can with ancient principles.
Traditionally, there are 365 acupuncture points on the body. How those points are used will certainly depend on the patient’s symptoms, the findings on physical examination, and specific Acupuncture evaluation (EMI) of the electro-magnetic flow through the 12 main meridians. There is not one specific style of acupuncture in practice worldwide today. In fact there are numerous styles of acupuncture just as there are martial art styles depending on the nation who is practicing it or adjusting styles based on the school that the doctor attended. Therefore, to try to establish one common definition of acupuncture to reflect every style of acupuncture throughout dozens of Asian, Mid- East and European nations would be almost an impossibility creating disagreement amongst the equally diverse practitioners of the various styles. Sufficed to day, most people equate Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture – nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, before 1972, almost all of the practicing Acupuncturists in the United States were from Japan or Korea. Therefore, I want you to understand that I do not practice strict Traditional Chinese Medicine, nor do I claim to be a TCM practitioner because I have been trained in and utilize many different Acupuncture styles (Chinese Hand Acupuncture, Korean Hand Acupuncture, Auriculotherapy (Ear Acupuncture), Cerebral Acupuncture, Japanese and Korean needling techniques, and Gua Sha to name a few.
After the questions of “What is Acupuncture” and “How does it work?” have been answered, the next triad of questions are: 1) “Will it work for my condition?”, 2) “How much does it cost?”, and 3) “How many times do I have to come?”. Quite simply put, the answer to the first question is not known. Every person is different and every condition responds differently. What can be assured is that the person will note some difference in a very short period of time (few days to a few weeks). The length and extent of treatment can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. That can be addressed after the patient has been evaluated and the EMI study is performed. Traditionally, the treatment plan would start with 6 to 12 treatments over a 4-8 week period.
I am accepting new acupuncture patients daily. If you, or someone you know, is interested in undergoing acupuncture treatment, please call my office 419.335.5851 and inform the receptionist that you would like Acupuncture treatment and she will assist you with setting up an appointment.