Most people are familiar with acupuncture or at least they are familiar with the idea of inserting needles in people for a therapeutic benefit. Beyond that most people have no idea what acupuncture actually is or how it works.
Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been practised in one form or another for over 8 thousand years. In fact archaeological digs uncovered tombs containing stone acupuncture “needles” dating to approximately 6000 BC. Over time the needles changes from stone to fish bone to steel until the standard became today’s sterilised surgical steel needles.
There are over 300 traditional acupuncture points on the body. There are hundreds more additional points and thousands more based on different theoretical frameworks. All in all acupuncture is a very complex and refined form of traditional medicine.
So what are the points?
The simplest way to describe the points is to say they are like traffic lights or signal control boxes to direct traffic (energy, blood, lymph) throughout the body. Sometimes there is a “traffic jam” whereby the flow of energy is stuck and sometimes there is a lack of traffic to a particular area and we need to increase it. Each acupuncture point has a specific role to play in directing the flow of energy in relation to an associated organ. Some acupuncture points have multiple uses as they may be confluence points or intersections for the flow of blood and energy to different areas.
The acupuncture points are located on channels called Jing Lou which are often referred to as meridians. These channels flow through the body connecting the organs and extremities. Some of these channels are quite superficial and some can be quite deep within the body. The Jing Luo are like rivers or roadways carrying energy, blood, lymph and nervous system impulses throughout the body. In ancient times rivers were the arteries through which trade flowed. As such the meridians are described as being like rivers. Some points on the extremities are called well points and are where the rivers begin. The following points are called spring points and the flow of energy increases towards the stream points which are usually located around the wrist. The next points are river points and the flow of energy is strong here until we reach the Sea points at which point the channel will descend deep into the body and its associated organ.
Cold and flu etc are called external pathogens in TCM. It is said they enter the body through the well points and travel inward via the stream and river before descending into the sea of the body. The immune system in TCM is called Wei Qi or defensive Qi and this flows counter to the current of the river in order to expel the pathogen. If the Wei Qi is stronger than the pathogen it will be expelled before entering the body. If the pathogen is stronger it will overpower the Wei Qi and enter the body. If the Organs are weak too the pathogen can overpower them and lead to more serious illness.
We often use the spring and stream points to help the Wei Qi expel the pathogen by opening the exterior which has an effect similar to venting the pathogen and releasing it from the body. It is essential that this happens in the early stages before the pathogen has an opportunity to descend deeper. The first signs of a cold could be a slight headache, itchy throat, runny nose. This is the time to act to expel the pathogen before it gets onto the lungs which are considered the uppermost and outermost organ and the first line of defence. Given that this is the only organ with a direct link to the outside of the body via the mouth and nose this is obviously most susceptible to illness which is why most people suffer cold or flu symptoms at least once per year.
Acupuncture can also be used to ease pain throughout the body by dispersing stagnant Qi and blood or sending Qi and blood to an area of deficiency. The network of acupuncture channels are extensive throughout the body and while they are superficial at the extremities they can often travel quite deep towards the trunk. They can therefore be utilised to ease pain throughout the body. For example points on the ankle can be effective in easing pain in the back because the channel is superficial there before travelling through the low back. Points on the hands and feet can be very effective in easing headache and migraine symptoms too because of this.
Acupuncture can do more than ease pain of expel pathogens, it can also be used to strengthen the flow of energy and blood to the organ associated with a particular channel and thus can strengthen the organ and enhance overall wellbeing.