Chinese Medicine Demystified (Part VI): 5 ways acupuncture can help you where drugs and surgery can’t

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  1. Josh’s avatar

    I’ve really enjoyed this series of articles, though I had some questions that I feel weren’t directly answered.
    Firstly, how can you define Qi? If it is not “energy”, then what is it? You’ve mentioned before about it being (or being related to) breath, and I understand how proper breathing is important with internal practice, but how does this coincide the feeling of qi one experiences when practicing internal arts (I know when I adopt a stance from Ba Gua Zhang, I feel it immediately in my palms) or occasionally during acupuncture treatment? I have waited with baited breath to see if this would be explained in detail in your series of articles :D .
    Further, I am curious if there is any reason why sometimes this feeling is stronger and sometimes lighter? I know there was one spot I’ve experienced under the knee (the aim was to treat an inflamed hamstring tendon that was giving me discomfort proximal to the isheal tuberosity when I sat down) that was very intense, like a river of qi! Lastly, I’ve noticed that lots of times an area that needs needling (at least based on my experience as a patient) always seemed to be very sore. My acupuncturist would palpate and it was always the sorest of spots that would be needled; most of the time this was to treat various pain issues. Why is there this connection between these points, the aching pain, and needle location?
    Another question for you. You’ve said that acupuncture can help loosen the muscles, so perhaps this answers my question. In the past I was treated by an acupuncturist for my scoliosis. My acupuncturist found that in addition to spinal deviation, my left scapula was raised slightly as well.
    She would palpate along my spine and back and would insert a needle next to one of the vertibrae that were out of alignment and would also insert a needle into sore spots on my back (most commonly in the area south of the scapula and proximal to the spine). Sometimes she would also use a (what she said was) Japanese method of acupuncture on my head (the scalp). My spine did seem to straighten and my scapula lowered (the feeling was very strange and I couldn’t place it at first what the cause was. It felt like there was a trigger point under my scapula almost. Later I rememebered that she said she was lowering my scapula and then it made sense why I had a trigger point feeling in an area that doesn’t form trigger points). Did this process occur only due to the muscles loosening and thus allowing the bones to shit into their proper location?

  2. Josh’s avatar

    ischial* tuberosity
    I need to proof read better :D

  3. Rhonda’s avatar

    How does one tell if an acupuncturist is “good”, qualified?
    Also, how does one find such a person?  (I live in San Francisco; we have lots of acupuncturists in the Bay Area, but I do not know the difference between a “quack” and the real thing.)
    Thanking you in advance for your reply.

  4. admin’s avatar


    As I wrote in Part II, if we’re talking about the qi that moves around the body in vessels (erroneously called meridians), then the most accurate translation is probably oxygen. But qi can also refer to the function of something, so there are several different types of qi described in Chinese medicine (i.e. Zhong Qi, Zheng Qi, etc.)

    Second, as a Ba Gua and internal arts practitioner myself, I’m familiar with the experiences you describe. But I don’t think we need the concept of “energy” and meridians to describe what happens when we train.

    For me it’s just a question of reframing what i’m experiencing. It doesn’t change the actual experience. My Ba Gua teacher is adamant that there’s no magic or mystery involved in the kind of “soft power” one can cultivate. I’ve seen him send huge guys across the room without much effort. We have a tendency in the west to assume this is somehow non-physical (probably because of movies like crouching tiger), but my teacher will be the first to say that it’s 100% a matter of body awareness and organization.

    I don’t know all of the mechanisms involved, but certainly increasing the amount of oxygen available to tissues, increasing heart rate, increasing blood flow (through movement and different standing postures), contracting and extending muscles, etc. will have a profound effect on physiology.

    The tenderness in various points you describe is probably a reflection of something called “referred organ pain”. This is a fundamental aspect of Chinese medicine, but wasn’t discovered in the west until the 1800s. When there is a disharmony in the internal organs, that can manifest as a tender spot on the skin. Tender spots can also be trigger points, which are small contraction knots in the skeletal muscle.

    The propagated sensation you describe as the needles are inserted is the subjective feeling of nerve activation that travels along nodal pathways of the body. Muscle action potentials can be measured along the course of the propagated sensation (PS), and PS can be blocked by mechanical pressure on the node or lowered temperature, indicating involvement of static load muscle spindle fibers.

    I think you answered your last question.

    Thanks for your comments, Josh.

  5. admin’s avatar

    I would ask where they did their training, how long they’ve been in practice for, what additional training or specializations they have, and what their success rates are with the condition you’re seeking treatment for.

    You can also use Yelp to search for an acupuncturist in your neighborhood and read reviews from other patients.

  6. Deedee’s avatar

    Hiya. Thank you for this detailed explaination! I have always been curious about Chinese medicine and acupunture. I had a friend who did acupressure and taught me some – I always wondered what the difference was. I have shied away from acupressure, and most Chinese medicines because in this country (England) at least, they seem to be very linked with Chinese religion and I’m a pastor’s wife! Not something we want to mix. I appreciate your explainations that this is medical, not spiritual. Alot the think about and go read more about…………..

  7. admin’s avatar

    Hi Deedee,
    I’m glad you enjoyed the series. There’s nothing religious about acupuncture. As you now know it works by stimulating the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Give it a try!

  8. Jesse’s avatar

    If I understand correctly, you’re saying acupuncture is comparable to the entirety of western medicine? That acupuncture is better for most conditions, though western medicine is better for some?

  9. admin’s avatar


    That’s not exactly what I’m saying.

    What I’m saying is that Chinese medicine is a better method of healthcare than western medicine.  I understand healthcare to be simply defined as “promoting health”.  I see little in western medicine that promotes health.

    On the other hand, as I explained in the article, western medicine is superior to Chinese medicine in dealing with trauma and emergency situations.  This includes the management of some serious diseases that require pharmaceutical or surgical intervention for the survival of the patient.

    Chinese and western medicine are complementary.  I use them both myself.  For example, if I get in an accident and break a leg I’ll definitely be going to the hospital.  But then I’ll use acupuncture and herbs to recover much more quickly from the injury.

    Using Chinese medicine to stay healthy and address common issues such as digestive problems, headaches, musculoskeletal pain, immune deficiencies, insomnia, anxiety, etc., and using western medicine for trauma and emergency care is the best approach.

    Perhaps I need to re-write this article to clarify.

  10. Jesse’s avatar

    So western medicine has been better at treating acute life-threatening situations, while Chinese medicine is better for curing chronic conditions and making life more enjoyable?
    I don’t know that the article was unclear; perhaps I didn’t read carefully enough.

  11. admin’s avatar

    I would say that’s true for the most part, although it depends on the nature of the chronic condition.

    Chinese medicine = improves quality of life and reduces morbidity

    Western medicine = serious disease management and emergency care

  12. Jesse’s avatar

    I understand.
    You also said, “Western medicine, on the other hand, confuses symptoms with disease. Treatment is almost always directed at the symptom, not the disease.”
    Would you say that, for the most part, only symptoms are treated because it is so difficult to discover the root causes, so most of them haven’t been figured out yet, or is it something more fundamental about western medicine?

  13. Dave’s avatar

    Hi Chris,
    Any thoughts regarding electro-acupuncture?

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