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Articles | Traditional Chinese Medicine | How Does Acupuncture Work

How Does Acupuncture Work? (con't)

All of these acupuncture points have local effects (as described above) but in addition many of them are command points or mode switches which can be seen to have not only a local effect but a distal effect as well. We can observe how specific pain or congestion in a local area will occur simultaneously with intense pain on the command points of the particular channel; correspondingly we can manipulate these command points with needles in order to reduce the pain along the channel.

Oriental Medicine describes a healthy body as having a harmonious, even flow of Qi through the channels. When the body is disrupted due to external trauma, pathogenic invasion or internal deficiencies, the flow of Qi is disrupted. The Qi flow may be insufficient to energise the functions of the local tissues or it may become
blocked or stagnant or excessive. The process of acupuncture adjusts the flow of Qi by increasing deficiencies, by reducing excesses and by redirecting Qi to other areas.

This explanation appears to make instinctive sense, but is there a physiological or anatomical basis that will allow us to understand the movement of Qi?

The Connective Tissue Level

One promising possibility lies in an understanding of the connective tissues. These form a continuous sheath, binding and penetrating all of the soft tissues of the body. The acupuncture points and meridians can be viewed as a representation of this network of interstitial connective tissue. This hypothesis is supported by ultrasound images showing connective tissue cleavage planes at acupuncture points. In other words, the sites of the categorised acupoints coincide with junction points within the connective tissue network.

This viewpoint links closely with the Chinese Medicine (CM) concept of ‘De Qi’. An acupuncture point is not just inserted into the skin. The needle is manipulated with careful twisting or thrusting movements to generate what CM calls the arrival of Qi or De Qi. This feeling may be a mild pressure, a grabbing sensation or even a strong jolt. Notably, this is not just a local pressure, but a sensation that spreads, it can be felt travelling along the line of the limbs and often into the abdomen or head. Thus a needle inserted into a distal point on the leg, for instance, can actually make adjustments to the tension of the tissues further up the leg and into the lower abdomen, simply because of the connectivity of the connective tissue.

This phenomena is explored in a study by Helene M. Langevin and Jason A. Yandow, published in 2002 in The Anatomical Record. The paper has pictures showing acupuncture needles grabbing, and therefore tugging on, layers of connective tissue. To read this paper Click here...