Acupuncture and Moxabustion : 针灸

Acupuncture : 针 

Acupunture is both the art and skill of using very fine needles, puncturing the skin generally between 1cm and 4cm, in specific regions on the body and “grasping qi” or in other words obtaining a physiological connection between the body and the needle (this connection goes deeper than just physiological but I will stick with that for now). The depth of the needle depends on many factors, for example: whether or not there is a bone or organ directly underneath or if there is a lot of adipose tissue or muscle underneath; the treatment intention can also require deep or shallow needle depths as they are indicated for chronic diseases and relative shallow needle depths are indicated for acute diseases. The needles are inserted on specific points on the body which are indicated in helping restore physiological and mental balance. Point combinations are often indicated for certain diseases and disharmonies, but particularly the responses observed for over thousands of years in correlation to the predisposition and environmental factors, as noted in the classic canons of Chinese medicine, is why we choose certain points. Such points, when combined in certain ways, provide different physiological responses. For example, all points have a natural response to increase circuation to the local area, but also the points have flowing natures associated with the nervous system; both parasympathetic and sympathetic, the lymphatic system, and as mentioned above the circulatory system. Many regions of the body have over 50 point locations, however, in my clinical practice, rarely are more than 10 points selected for a treatment. Acupuncture can be applied safely to most areas of the body including the face, ears, neck, chest, abdomen, back, legs and arms. Very few areas of the body harbor danger when safely and accurately being punctured by an acupuncture needle. One of the areas of the body that an acupuncturist must be cautious when needling is the thoracic area, as the lungs are nearer to the surface and vulnerable during a cough or sneeze. After years of training and adequate state and nationwide testing, all qualified licensed acupuncturists are fully aware of these vulnerable areas of the body.

The sensation of the needle once inserted into the body varies depending on a few factors: location, insertion depth, manipulation of the needle and the sensitivity of the patient. Some people are quite sensitive to sensations within their body, and although they may be perfectly comfortable with the sensation, they feel it more nonetheless. The emotional state of a person, which varies as well, can bring about different sensations from needle insertion. An obvious emotional state – needle sensation correlation that I have observed is a patient who is feeling tense might respond to the needle sensation feeling tense. Our hope as TCM practitioners is to restore the harmony between the sensation felt by the patient and therefore the response to the treatment as a whole. What is important to note is that at anytime if a patient is uncomfortable and or experiencing unwanted pain from the needle insertion, the needles can always be removed. Sensations can vary from feeling nothing at all to sharp, electrical, pulling, warming, pressure and so on. These sensations are meant to be noticed but never excrutiating nor intolerable. Although I have observed some really intense needling practices in China, I am not sure a society outside of the birth of TCM would quite be ready for such intense needling practices.

Treatment times and retention of the needles vary from patient to patient and disease to disease. Some treatments can last 30 minutes and some 2 hours. The tendency of practice is the more chronic a disease is the longer the needles are retained. In some chronic pain cases, needles might be retained even after the patient leaves the treatment office, for as long as 3 days, however with clear safety measures and direct guidance from the practitioner.

Some first time patients of acupuncture, patients with needle phobia or patients that have not eaten something prior to receiving acupuncture are examples of what might lead to needle shock. Needle shock sounds scarier than it is, as normally it just means a person might experience some slight dizziness, lightheadedness or a feeling of low blood sugar. I personally have not experienced this with myself nor with a patient. However that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, and if it does, the resolution is to remove the needles and allow the patient to rest and sip warm water and possibly eat something to help restore a healthy blood sugar level.

Generally, treatments of acupuncture are more effective when received in greaterfrequency and or consistency. For both chronic and acute disorders, acupuncture can be most effective when received every other day or at least once a week. Most patients in China receiving acupuncture treatments receive them every other day, and especially for chronic disorders.

The goal of acupuncture is much like the goal of all of the therapies in Traditional Chinese Medicine and more concretely in classical Chinese medicine, that the points selected are in one way or another helping the patient to restore balance and harmony physiologically and or mentally/emotionally. Using specific point combinations on the body, the physician can help treat, harmonize, and even prevent imbalances such as migraines, insomnia, common cold and flu, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, neuromuscular pain, anxiety, obesity, trauma, addiction, depression, and everything in between. When people think of acupuncture, they generally think of a needle entering the skin directly where one has pain, and only treating physical pain. This is sadly one of the largest misconceptions of acupuncture, and not even scratching the surface of it’s 2500 year old recorded history (that’s right, Traditional Chinese Medicine and moreover classical Chinese medicine has been around well over 2500 years, and in some ancient texts, citing 4000 years of treatment history). Traditional Chinese Medicine, when used in accordance with the education and training, as well knowing and consulting with the classics of Chinese medicine, is absolutely a very powerful and effective healing tool and a way of life for many.

I suspect that I have left out some other details about acupuncture, but alas, I am human, and quite imperfect. If you have any questions or anything to add to this explanation of acupuncture as a tool used by Traditional Chinese Medicine and classical Chinese medicine practitioners, I would truly appreciate it any and all.

Moxabustion :  灸

Moxabustion is the usage of a particular herb called Ai Ye 艾草, which is the leaf of the mugwort plant (Artemisia Argyi, for the botanically minded folks), ground, then rolled and compressed into a long cigar-like stick, that practitioners ignite at one end and with careful distance warm an injured or disharmonized area of the patient’s body. The long cigar-like stick, officially known as a moxa stick, is not the only mode in which moxabustion is applied. During acupuncture treatments, a doctor might decide that the patient needs a more warming effect from the treatment, and so by using the ground of mugwort, can clump and press it into a ball around the top part of the needle (the part farthest from the skin) and with a safety barrier between the skin and the burning mugwort leaf, the needle is warmed and that warmth is transmitted internally. Another mode of applying moxa is with a metal device that is about the size of a pen and has a free-rolling top meant to warm an area on the body by safely rolling the burning moxa without the burning moxa actually touching the skin (see photos above)….