People often ask me, “Why is acupuncture good for pain relief?”
My answer sometimes depends on who is asking. Depending on my sense of what the person will best relate to, I will provide either a more esoteric answer, based in Eastern philosophy and an energetic understanding of human anatomy, or I will give an answer that is more satisfying to the Western mind and the allopathic understanding of anatomy and physiology. Both answers are true. Both answers are satisfying to me. I believe in the subtle body, in the magic and mystery of what we cannot see. However, I also have a very critical, skeptical, scientific mind, so I am also interested in that which we can prove and see with our own eyes.
From a Chinese Medical perspective, the answer is quite simple:
Considering that the acupuncture meridians (aka channels or vessels) are an inherent aspect of our esoteric anatomy, if there is stagnation in the energy of a channel, there will be symptoms or pain. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is an idiom that comes from the Huang Di Nei Jing, one of the ancient classical texts in Chinese Medicine, written over two thousand years ago. It says, 不通這痛,痛則不通 (pronounced tong ze bu tong, bu tong ze tong) which translates basically as: if there is no free flow, there is pain; if there is free flow, there is no pain.
With this understanding, if we resolve the restriction of energy movement (Qi stagnation) within the meridian, or invigorate the movement of blood (blood stasis) in the vessels, the pain will also be relieved. There are a number of different ways to accomplish this with acupuncture, but the principle remains the same. Reestablish free flow of qi and blood in the channels, and the pain will be resolved.
From a Western anatomical model, the answer is more complicated. The answer also depends on what treatment approach we take. One treatment method is to use “local needling,” placing needles directly in the area of the body where the pain is. For example, if someone has low back pain, a “local” treatment involves inserting acupuncture needles directly into their low back. The opposite treatment approach is call “distal needling,” where we place acupuncture needles only in parts of the body that are far away from the pain. For example, if someone has low back pain, we place acupuncture needs in the hands, feet, ankles or forearms. Both treatments can be highly effective, but they work for different reasons.
Tune in to my next blog article for deeper exploration into why these two treatment methods can be effective for pain relief.
David A. Kaminker
Acupuncture and Craniosacral