What does an Acupuncturist do?
It is perhaps confusing to some to realise that no two acupuncturists will do the same thing with the same patient. This is because acupuncture comes from a very long historical and geographical base. So, in fact, there are many different styles and approaches that fall under the broad umbrella of acupuncture. Examples of different styles include Chinese Acupuncture, Japanese Acupuncture and Korean Acupuncture.
The general goal of all acupuncturists is the promotion, maintenance and restoration of health and the prevention of illness. Traditional Oriental Medicine defines perfect health as a state of balance. It views all illness, disease and even subclinical lack of wellness as being due to imbalance. The key to effective treatment is to identify the most important imbalance(s) and do what is possible to shift a patient back towards balance. There are three pillars all acupuncturists use to pursue this goal; (a) assessment techniques, (b) information filters and (c) therapeutic techniques.
a. Assessment Techniques.
Patient assessment in Traditional Oriental Medicine is based on ‘the four examinations’;
- inspection (looking),
- palpation (feeling)
- inquiry (asking)
Inspection includes the complex traditional art of tongue diagnosis as well assessment of body type, posture, movement, tone and lustre of skin and hair.
Listening includes all information derived from the nature of a patient’s voice and breathing qualities. Smelling is also included within listening.
Palpation includes the traditional art of pulse diagnosis, traditional abdominal palpation and meridian palpation. In traditional pulse diagnosis, the practitioner feels the pulse on both wrists and pays attention to the rate, rhythm, shape and quality of the pulse.
Inquiry includes information derived from a full suite of standard questions pertaining to all body functions, including digestion, diet, sleep, elimination, sweating, pain, sensory function, menstrual patterns and medical history.
b. Information Filters.
The assessment techniques provide the practitoner with much information, which must then be turned into an understanding of the patient’s condition. In other words, before effective therapy can be provided, the practitioner must make sense of all the signs and symptoms. The Traditional Oriental Medical view of how your body, mind and spirit function is quite different from the Western Medical perspective. This different view of your anatomy and physiology provides the acupuncturist with a way of making sense of the assessment information. Classical Acupuncturists use such conceptual frameworks as
- The balance of Yin and Yang – Homeostasis
- Five Phase Theory – A regulatory model of promotion and control within living systems.
- The twelve Zang Fu – The roles and interrelations of the internal organs.
- The eight Principal Patterns of Disease – Differentiation according to four principle pairings; Internal/external, excess/deficient, hot/cold, yin/yang.
- Exogenous Factors of Disease – Wind, cold, heat, dryness and damp.
- Endogenous Factors of Disease – Anger, grief, overthinking, fear, fright, joy.
- Meridian Theory – the dynamics of circulating influences (Qi) via a system of pathways which include the 12 main meridians and the 8 extraordinary vessels.
These systems require skilled professional ability to make sense of all the patient’s signs and symptoms, a process called ‘pattern discrimination’. Using these systems, any symptom on its own is quite meaningless. It is the full set of signs and symptoms a patient presents with that provide the skilled practitioner with one or more identifiable patterns. So, for example, insomnia, on its own is meaningless without being considered as part of a pattern that includes everything from the digestive functions of the patient to his or her emotional life.
In the hands of a properly trained and skilled practitioner, this approach to organising all of the patient’s signs and symptoms provides a powerful way to put a patient’s complaint or main symptom into a much larger context. This means that the treatment you get is good for you as a whole person. It is not just a bandage attempt to relieve a symptom.
c. Therapeutic Techniques
Once the information filters of Oriental Medicine are used to make some sense of a patient, a number of tools and techniques are used to offer appropriate therapy. The widespread belief that acupuncture only involves the use of needles is very much incorrect. This has never been the case except in some modern Western interpretations. The tools and techniques of a well-trained acupuncturist can include
- blood moving approaches
- polarity devices
- frequency approaches
Needles come in a wide range of thicknesses, lengths and materials. The most common needles in use today are made of stainless steel. They are typically factory sterilised and for single use. Gold and silver needles are also in common use in some styles of acupuncture.
Moxibustion shares equal status with needling in terms of its therapeutic significance. As with needling, there are many different techniques of moxibustion and many different grades of moxa. Moxa is applied directly on acupuncture points in everything from tiny rice grain sized pieces to larger thumb sized cones. Moxa is also commonly applied indirectly by burning cherry-sized balls affixed to the tops of needles (the warming needle technique).
Blood moving approaches include the application of suction cups to specific areas (cupping), the use of dermal frictioning (gua sha), and bloodletting. These techniques break up chronic blood congestion in surface capillaries, improve microcirculation and can be dramatically effective in resolving certain pain conditions. They can also be important in the resolution of high fevers and respiratory conditions.
Traditional Chinese massage is called Tui Na. Sometimes it goes by the name of an earlier version, Amma. Some acupuncturists make extensive use of Tui Na. Other traditional East Asian approaches have developed their own styles of traditional massage. It is not unusual for Classical Acupuncturists to use traditional Thai massage or the Japanese meridian-based massage system known as Shiatsu.
In modern classically-based Acupuncture practice a number of different devices are used to establish an electromagnetic gradient along meridians and between acupuncture points. These include magnets, pellets of copper and zinc, silver and gold, and various copper cords, rings and chains with special built-in diodes. These approaches are not to be confused with the currently widespread and non-discriminating use of polarity devices such as magnets by the general public. Acupuncturists only use these devices in applications that strictly adhere to the diagnostic and therapeutic principles of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine. They are used on precise Acupuncture points to facilitate the flow of Qi along Meridian pathways.
It was recognised thousands of years ago that each of the meridians and organ systems of Chinese Medicine resonate with different vibrational frequencies. These observations were made with both colour (each ‘organ’ has a different colour affiliation) and sound (the basis of many ancient chanting systems) correspondences. These principles are being developed in a number of ways by modern acupuncturists. Some have found that tapping on meridians at different frequencies can yield profound effects. Others are exploring the use of beams of colour at Acupuncture points. Colorpuncture is one of the latest additions to the growing family of Acupuncture variants.