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Reading the body

April 15th, 2012

Many people who have experienced acupuncture have noticed sensations in the body that arise during treatment, such as movement or heat, which travel from the site of the needle. Acupuncture points tend to lie along these lines or pathways where the sensations travel.

Points that are on the same pathway often have similar functions to each other, and these pathways are also called meridians. These meridians arise on the surface of the body, but connect to the deeper tissues and organs. Scientists are still trying to find physical structures along meridian pathways, but there has been no widely accepted biological explanation for meridians, although they have been well established through time and experience. The acupuncture meridian map was created thousands of years ago through the combined experience of many acupuncturists. In Chinese medicine theory, needling into points along the meridians will be able to affect these deeper levels, as well as areas at distant places on the body which may be connected by these meridians.

For example, when a person has a stomachache, an acupuncture point commonly used is known as ST 36, which is located just below the knee on a pathway which connects with the stomach. When a person has a headache at the forehead, one point commonly used is LI 4, located on the hand between the thumb and first finger, because the Large Intestine pathway goes to the forehead.

Modern biomedicine today tends to approach a patient by asking him or her questions about their symptoms, then doing relevant lab tests to diagnose illness. Acupuncture in recent years has begun to follow this model, relying more on the process of asking questions to understand the cause of a patient’s symptoms. However, one key tool acupuncturists can use to understand the dynamics of a person’s health is palpation – pressing on specific acupuncture points and meridians to discover where a person’s imbalances are. Bumps on your shin bone might mean that the digestion is not regulated well. Puffiness on the back of the neck might mean your immune system is weak. Tenderness on a specific spot on the palm of the hand could indicate troubled emotions.

In checking in with specific acupuncture points, an acupuncturist can determine which meridians are out of balance, even before symptoms may appear. During acupuncture treatments, I use this information also to determine which points are the best ones to correct the imbalances as they appear. The art of palpation (diagnosis by using the sense of touch) is unfortunately not something that is taught in all acupuncture schools, although reading the body for its clues is incredibly useful for understanding a person’s health, and for determining the best direction for treatment.