Here it is…my down and dirty definition of this thing I do called Acupuncture. It’s been a long time coming, which is probably because I’ve been avoiding it. It’s not that I don’t like to talk about acupuncture. I LOVE to talk acupuncture. But I’ve found it extremely difficult to connect back to my days of acupuncture-naïvety. For the past several years, my life has been eat-sleep-breathe acupuncture (and herbology- that’s another story). It’s like trying to remember what life was like before you could read. All that aside, I’m a firm believer that the absolute best experts are the very ones who can explain concepts of their field in simple, elegant, easy-to-understand terms. Here is my humble attempt.
Nuts and Bolts
Very technically, acupuncture is the insertion of extremely fine, solid, sterile, single-use needles into predetermined points on the body. They vary in length and diameter and go in at specific angles and to specific depths depending on the location on the body, the condition being treated, and the patient’s general constitution.
Many people ask me if the needles are going into nerves or blood vessels but they are actually entering muscle tissue most of the time. Acupuncture points are found along acupuncture channels (or meridians) which are likened to energetic rivers that traverse the body. These channels often follow major nerves, blood vessels, musculature, and even lymphatic pathways. So – even though the goal of acupuncture is not to puncture these structures, the needles still have a huge effect on both the local anatomy around the points as well as areas upstream or downstream of the channel. The needles cause increased blood flow, oxygenation, and neural stimulation. Hence, the body starts to heal itself. Oh, the beauty of human magic.
Chinese medicine is very much the marriage of science and art. Each acupuncturist practices differently and develops his or her own treatment style. There is no set formula or algorithm for symptoms or diseases. Acupuncturists meticulously diagnose using patterns of imbalance rather than specific disease (this is why we ask so many questions). This allows for individualistic, patient-centered, one-of-a-kind care. There is decisive artistry in choosing which points to needle, in what order, how to manipulate the qi of each point, and what -if any- additional techniques are used (A further discussion of Qi is on its way. For the time being, read this article).
That’s acupuncture in a nutshell. It’s just ONE part of the Chinese medical tradition but it’s a pretty darn important part. Hopefully this sheds a little light on what acupuncture really is (more than just needles!) and you got your daily dose of education. There is plenty more to learn so contact me with any questions.