How to Save Acupuncture

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The Conceptual Shift


There is a conceptual shift needed in our field. I can’t be sure if it has happened or if it will even happen. The shift is essentially moving away from point-action as the primary focus of Acupuncture. Instead, the focus should turn towards an understanding that emphasizes the adaptive response that needling and other methods induce. 

Let’s say someone comes in with a cough and is hoping that Acupuncture can alleviate his symptoms. The basic starting point that I, and most others trained in the U.S., Europe and perhaps China would be to either treat the lung with points on the lung channel or use Channel Theory, Zangfu or the 5 Elements to construct a series of points that relate to the lung in order to treat the cough. I imagine this treatment would include points along the lung, spleen, bladder and large intestine channel. One could create a compelling argument for using any points according to channel theory because of the various ways the organs and channels are interconnected. 

From pure Deadman/ Maciocia, we could justify our strategy based on choosing points that include ‘cough’ in their description. From this, we use a smattering of styles and techniques that we’ve picked up from seminars, online groups, books and more.

'I think this represents the basic state of Acupuncture in America, namely that we use ‘points’ based on their ‘function’ according to the symptoms the patient presents with.'


I think this represents the basic state of Acupuncture in America, namely that we use ‘points’ based on their ‘function’ according to the symptoms the patient presents with. My sense tells me that this is the reason clinical trials of Acupuncture have largely turned up less than promising.


We should not forget the ‘point-action’ entirely, but perhaps it would be helpful to have a lens through which to understand the nature of the stress we are placing on the system through needling (gua sha, cupping, herbs, moxa) in the hopes of resolving symptoms - like a cough. I believe the model is the Hormetic Model of low dose stimulation, high dose inhibition that describes the response of organisms and systems when exposed to stressors.


Acupuncture Pre-Conditioning & Post- Conditioning


It is important to be clear when using Acupuncture. We are breaking skin and creating a disturbance in local tissues that set off a cascade of adaptive responses at the neuronal, circulatory and fascial levels. This means that an acupuncture needle creates micro-traumas that can be categorized by the transient changes in neuronal activity, circulating biomarkers and structural deformations of connective tissue. These are transient effects, the effects themselves don't last and nor do we want them to, they are simply the information we are feeding the system in the attempt to prompt a multifaceted (neuronal, immunological, endocrinal, etc.) response from the system - the limit of which is bounded by Bioplasticity.