What Exactly Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the medical practice of inserting needles into specific “Acupoints (1)” for the purpose of maintaining health or treating disease. Acupoints are specific locations found on established meridians which course the length and breadth of the body. The meridians home to particular organs or run specific trajectories within the body. “Meridian and Point theory” is the base model used in all fields of Oriental Medicine including acupuncture, chinese herbalism, oriental massage, Tai Qi, Qi Gong and other modalities.

It is believed this medicine has existed more than ten thousand years (2). The first written record of Acupuncture comes from three thousand year old Shang Dynasty heiroglyphic inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells. The earliest written charts of acupuncture meridians and points appear in the Huang Di Nei Jing, dated around the third century B.C. The first codified theory and practice text, The Huang Di Nei Jing or “Yellow Emperor‘s Inner Classic of Medicine ” is the seminal doctrine text of Oriental Medical thought. Compiled by various scholars, the Nei Jing appeared between 300 and 100 B.C.E., and is the basis for virtually all schools of Oriental medical practice. Its companion text, the Huang Di Nan Jing or the “Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Eighty One Medical Difficulties” was written the second century C.E. for commentary and clarification on the original Nei Jing. This work, the Nan Jing became the seminal text for development of Japanese Meridian Acupuncture.

Other classics include the Shang Han Lun or “Classic of Cold Induced Disorders,”
the Wen Bing Su Wen or “Classic of Feverish Disorders,” and the Shennong Ben Cao, the first Herbal Materia Medica text. These texts, which are the basis for Oriental Medicine, are in turn rooted in the Oriental Philosophy models of Taoism. The theories of Yin and yang, the Five Elements, Meridian and Point theory tie together the medicine explored in the various classic texts. These texts trained practitioners in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, other Asian countries and eventually in the West. Today Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine are successfully employed worldwide in treatment of a wide range of disease patterns.

Acupuncture is to be seen in the context of a single tool within a larger medical system. The sytem of Chinese medicine has five formal branches of practice including (1) herbal pharmacy, (2) medical massage, movement therapy and meditiation, (3)dietary and lifestyle protocols, (4) heat therapy and electrostimulation, (5)and acupuncture. All are typically employed in both the treatment and prevention of disease. The intentional combining of these healing modalities cultivates well being as perceived from the Eastern perspective. Acupuncturists will use Meridian Theory in massage work, herbal prescription, meditative focus, heat therapy and electrostimulation and in acupuncture, the direct placement of needles in meridian points. All healing modalities are applied to the same theoretical system to yield the best result. Acupuncture, then is one of many tools employed.

Acupoints can be found on defined “Meridian Pathways” in the body. Twelve of these meridians home to, or are connected to twelve individual bodily organs. Eight other meridians run defined paths vertically on the front and back midlines, horizontally at the girdle and five other trajectories which do not home to a particular organ (3). Through these pathways run currents of energy or “Qi”(4) which well up at particular “Points” along the meridian.

The Acupuncturist can press or massage, heat, charge, needle or otherwise stimulate a point which then effects the meridian and organ or region targeted. Needling between the second andthird lumbar vertebrae for low back pain is an example of local treatment by a particular point. Using leg points on the Stomach meridian for rehabilitation after knee surgery is an example of treating the meridian. Needling Stomach meridian points for indigestion and stomach ache is an example of treating the associated organ. All are treated by using acupoints found on meridian pathways running through our bodies. The logical question arises, “What are meridians and points?”

Autopsy or other examination has never found tangible meridians and points. For this reason the Western Medical Establishment has been skeptical about their existence. The closest explanation for this comes from the field of embryology. As the fertilized ovum begins to divide, a clear image of meridians can be seen in the patterns made during cell division. Japanese Master Yoshio Manaka, MD, PhD states that ...“The first division of the ovum produces the ren (front) and du (back) mai,” These are the meridians running on the front and back midlines of the body. “... the second (division produces) the dai (horizontal) mai.” This is the meridian which horizontally encircles the waist. “The work of Tohaku Ishi and others shows a probable relationship of the ren and du mai to the primordial tissues of early development. (5)”

This research infers that as the ovum undergoes divisions and folds to differentiate tissue groups, the spaces between said folds become hollow bioelectrical Meridian Pathways which although devoid of substance, have definitive function. It is therefore said that “The form and structure of the body begin to mature together...(6)” and that since “...ethical considerations bar research into the bioelectrical activity of the first cells of human life... data is not available to prove this idea. However, clinical practice demonstrates that treatments based on this assumption are effective (7).” The meridians then, are to be seen as the spaces between tissue groups rather than substantive structures which can be found in anatomic examination. They are
communication avenues around the body. This is why clinical evidence shows changes in digestive function by needling a Stomach meridian point on the lower limb.

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine have historically treated disorders of the day and the place. In the Warring States period in China the medicine was crafted to address trauma. In the North of China, cold induced disorders were addressed, while in the South feverish diseases were treated. As time passed the Medicine adapted to treat such modern issues such as radiation sickness and related diseases such as cancer in post WW2 Japan, and more recently AIDS, Hepatitis and modern viral plagues worldwide. The twenty-first century has been called the age of “Shen (8)” or spirit disorders such as depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine are adapting today to treat the illnesses of the 21st century.

In the Orient Traditional Chinese and Modern Allopathic medicines are routinely combined in hospitals and clinics. The Chinese use both types of medicine for a combined therapy which yields the best results. This is the future of medicine in the Western world as Oriental medicine moves from “alternative to complementary to integrative” status in our treatment of disease in all of its manifestations.

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