Usually when we think about acupuncture, we think about it being a medical treatment for various health conditions. What is really fun about acupuncture, however, is that it is also a craft. If you have ever been treated by more than one acupuncturist for one specific condition you would notice that most likely their needling techniques are (slightly or substantially) different and the points they select may (most likely) be different. There is actually a very wide variation in methods that can be used when it comes to acupuncture; in that way, acupuncture is very generous and very versatile, and each acupuncturist is a bit like an artist making a beautiful healing treatment with needles in the canvas of a human being’s body.
Sometimes our patients will ask us why we select certain points for their treatments when another acupuncturist chose different ones or used different diagnostic methods to determine their choices of points. There are several reasons why treatments vary. First, acupuncturists use different diagnostic tools to create their treatments: asking questions and looking at our patient’s bodies are diagnostic tools we use on all of our patients. Some acupuncturists will base their treatments heavily on what they feel with abdominal palpation and/or pulse diagnosis, which isn’t our style at Acupuncture Together but is typical of those who practice a classical Japanese style of acupuncture. An acupuncturist’s choice of diagnostic tools is the first step to selecting points. Next, certain points are indicated for specific conditions and other points have a broader application. For example, when someone comes in for low back pain, there are a large number of options of points which are useful specifically for low back pain (let’s say there are 20 points – it’s probably something close to that number). In addition, depending on the cause of the condition or age of the patient, an acupuncturist would also think about what the cause of the pain is and choose points based on that (if it’s age related, for example, different points may be chosen than if it was due to an accidental fall by a young person or if it’s due to muscle tension or spasm) so an acupuncturist would choose points based on all of those factors combined. Rather than using all 20 of those low back points PLUS the muscle tension point PLUS the age or accident point, the acupuncturist chooses a subset of the optional points. Therefore, you end up with different points when being treated for the same condition.
Any acupuncturist and acupuncture student would tell you that when reading and studying books about acupuncture that there are no “musts” when it comes to acupuncture point selection. It’s actually very interesting to read a variety of acupuncture literature and see different point combinations given for the same condition. Using the low back pain example again, if you choose several acupuncture textbooks written by different authors you would see different point combinations in every book. Oftentimes when I’ve attended continuing education courses and we have discussed the treatment of any specific condition, the instructors have suggested different points and/or point combinations than I had previously considered. At the last community acupuncture conference I attended (June 2015), a foot point I had never used was discussed as being effective for low back pain due to one particular theory (there are LOTS of theories in acupuncture), so I’ve been using it a lot since then. Most of the time we make selections based empirical evidence of efficacy, so here’s a chance to see it for myself. As an experienced acupuncturist I often like to stick with my tried and true methods that I’ve seen work time and again on the patients I’ve treated, but it’s also exciting to learn from someone else with substantial clinical experience and try something I’ve learned from them.
In the end, when you receive acupuncture at Acupuncture Together, we, the acupuncturists, are always thinking about the way we think we’ll be able to help you in the best way possible, using the knowledge and skills that we have from our clinical experience and years of study which have enabled us to hone our crafts.
(Written by Justine Myers, Lic. Ac. on 8/20/15)