Acupuncture is a form of medical treatment which has been practiced in Asia for more than 2000 years and involves the use of small needles inserted at the skin surface to assist the body in healing from wear and tear by helping the body adjust itself and assisting our natural ability to heal ourselves.

Are you thinking of seeing an acupuncturist but want to learn more about how it works?  Well, you have come to the right place,because in this series of articles, entitled: “Introduction to Acupuncture,” I will begin to introduce some of the major theories of what acupuncture is and how it works.

In China, the birthplace of acupuncture, the practice is actually called “Zhen Jiu,” Zhen means needle and Jiu means moxa, a form of external herbal remedy which uses the ignited leaves of the mugwort plant to treat the surface of the body.   Both acupuncture and Moxibustion (the act of using burning mugwort near the body surface) use the same theory of treatment and have typically been used together throughout much of Chinese Medical history.   Today, most acupuncturists do not use moxa very often in clinical practice, and prefer to use needles and other therapies such as cupping, gua sha (scraping stone), and tui na (Chinese Medical Massage).   Today we will look at one of the basic theories of how these practices work, the concept of acupoints.

Just like how modern medicine discovered the inner workings of the body through dissection and anatomical study, ancient Chinese doctors also used similar methods to understand the inner workings of the human body.   Ancient Chinese doctors such as the mythological figure  Bian Que discovered the location and function of the organs during surgeries and were able to develop a basic theory of how the body worked from the inside out.   One thing they noticed that modern doctors did not is that the body consists of many small cavities which occur between bones and in places where muscles meet.  This cavities are often referred to as “Xue” which means “Cave,” and denotes an area of the body where there is a small gap.   These cavities were understood by Chinese doctors of ancient times to be places where the inner body and outside environment are closer together than areas which thick padding such as large muscle groups and adipose tissue (another word for fat deposits).   Because these small indentations in the body allow elements of the environment such as cold, damp, wind and heat to enter deeply within the body, it was generally understood by ancient Chinese doctors that these points were able to be easily damaged by external factors including very cold weather, trauma and heat.

If that sounds a little outlandish to you, remember that 2000 years ago nobody had climate control in their houses and that working outside for long hours during the winter months could actually cause serious injuries and lead to a compromised immune system, making it much easier for people to be susceptible to illness.

Because these acupuoints are the most direct point of entry from the surface of the outer to inner body, it was also discovered that they could reflect pathological conditions of the inner body as well, so it might be possible for a doctor to recognize that a patient had a dysfunction of a certain body part or organ simply by looking at and touching the body surface.

Again, if that seems somewhat mysterious, think of it like this: if you eat too much food and your stomach is very full, your abdomen will experience distension (sticking out) and and outside observer would be able to touch the area and know that it is completely full of food.   just in the same way, Chinese Medicine practitioners can palpate certain points on your body to find out if you have illnesses which tend to manifest as inflammation in those points.

The points also have another function in which they can sink in more deeply than is normal in healthy people, which indicates weakness, or what Chinese Medicine practitioners and acupuncturists call “deficiency.”   Deficiency usually means that you don’t have enough blood and Qi in a certain area and so the prescription to treat your problem will be totally different than one issued if you were experiencing inflammation, or “”Excess.”

When acupuncturists look at individual acupoints on the body, they are trying to find out whether a point is showing pathogenic signs and what the nature of those signs are.  There are a number of acupoint specific diagnostic signs we look for that can inform us of what kind of illness you have and how it should be treated.    Every practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist studies and masters these signs and their meanings during their time in acupuncture and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) College and so all licensed practitioners are held to specific standards of practice associated with making a Traditional Chinese Medicine Diagnosis.  Of course, we also use other models such as observing the tongue and pulse and we will get to those in future articles, so stay tuned as we release new content each week.

Once a successful diagnosis has been made, the practitioner will then decide a model of treatment which will usually include acupuncture and possibly moxibustion, cupping, gua sha, tui na or another “adjunct” therapy associated with our TCM and Acupuncture Tool kit.

This has been a general introduction to the concept of acupoints and we will soon introduce some more specific articles explaining them in more detail.    If you are interested in learning in more detail, consider dropping us a line since we plan on providing webinars and in person classes about TCM and your health.  More to come on that soon!

Until then, stay healthy, stay well, and take care of yourself!