Understanding Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine
by Debra Diers, L.Ac., DOM (NM), RN
In any system of medicine or healing, the best outcomes are achieved with proper diagnosis. The system of differential diagnosis in Chinese Medicine has been developed, refined, and built upon over the past several thousand years and offers clear and concise methods of uncovering the root imbalances in the body, mind, and spirit that create disharmony and illness. Using a combination of tongue and pulse diagnosis, detailed questioning, and in some instances abdominal palpation, a qualified, licensed practitioner of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is able to connect the dots of seemingly unrelated symptoms and complaints and form a cohesive diagnosis that explains what is occurring in oft times unexplainable, or otherwise unsuccessfully treated maladies.
Although there are several styles and techniques of performing acupuncture, Chinese, Japanese, Korean etc., all diagnosis is determined using the same core system based on the classic texts used throughout the course of history. Looking at the relationship between 8 parameters; hot/cold, excess/deficiency, internal/external and yin/yang, a pattern of imbalance begins to emerge that forms the basis of diagnosis.
Organ systems (Zang/Fu) and their relationship to each other are examined to see if they are supporting and nourishing each other or if they are draining and weakening or overburdening another system. Putting all this information together with the information gleaned from detailed questioning and the examination of the tongue and pulse helps uncover the root of the problem. From there a treatment plan is formulated. Determining the points that will be used to treat the imbalances is based on a deep understanding of the actions and effects of each point, used alone or in combination with others. Each acupuncture point has it own quality and action. Some are used to tonify and strengthen and others to disperse or move excess and stagnation. Still others may contribute by cooling or warming, moistening or drying. There are points to extinguish wind, expel dampness, or calm and sedate, as well as to reactivate and motivate. The proper combination of points allows the body to reshift and rebalance its energetic flow and help restore harmony in body mind and spirit.
Examination of the tongue and pulse are important aspects of diagnosis and much information is gleaned from this process. Different areas on the tongue will reflect the different organ systems, give to clues the health of the digestive process, reveal the state of fluid and temperature balance, show how deep an imbalance has penetrated into the body and show the overall state of the Qi (energy) and blood. This assessment gives the practitioner in depth information on which to base a diagnosis. Pulse diagnosis differs from western medical pulse taking. It is done at the wrists, in three positions and at three different depths. Looking for different pulse qualities such as wiry, slippery, choppy, thin, tight, (28 qualities in all) as well as regularity and speed, the acupuncturist is able to recognize at what level and in what system, whether it be the 8 parameters, or the zang/fu, the imbalance is occurring. Putting the pieces of the puzzle together takes skill and knowledge in order to arrive at the correct diagnosis and formulate the correct treatment plan.
One of the challenges in expressing and understanding some of the differences between eastern and western medicine is in the language used to describe imbalances and illnesses. For thousands of years, in the eastern medical model, the body has been viewed in relation to nature and the environment, and expressed through language that reflects this thought. Hence you may often times hear unfamiliar, and rather poetic explanations of the imbalance. For example, wind in the vessels is a common diagnosis in eastern medicine. Although you cannot actually see wind, you know that it is there because you can see the rustle of leaves, the movement of dust, or the blowing of someone's hair on a windy day. Wind is fluid and it stirs up and creates movement. Wind in the body, also invisible, is diagnosed in the same way, it stirs up and moves and can express itself in pain or symptoms that move from place to place. Pain may move from joint to joint. At one point it is in your elbow, and then may move to the knee, or pain may move from one area of the head to another. Seizures and tics or tremors are an extreme form of wind, sometimes complicated by a heat or fire process. Heat rises. The top of the room is always warmer than the bottom, the top of the flame is hotter than the bottom. This is what can be observed in the body also. Heat rising can also be expressed as anxiety, or insomnia causing agitation and nervousness or restlessness in the body, just as in a crackling fire. Heat can be seen in a flushed face, a body rash or a rising fever, a cold sore on the mouth as well as in a drying up of fluids, creating constipation or itchy dry skin. The heavy nature and quality of a damp humid day can be reflected in the body with a feeling of heaviness and lethargy and the body not wanting to move and propel itself forward. Thick fluids and discharges such as phlegm and mucous are examples of dampness. Swellings and masses such as tumors or cysts can have an element of dampness in them. All of these seemingly odd and foreign descriptions are important pieces in the formation of a diagnosis and are essential to understand in order to properly and successfully treat the imbalance. Five people can seek treatment for the same complaint, but the causative factors of their own etiology can be completely different and require different treatment. Differential diagnosis is the key to this process.
Because of the extensive detailed nature of diagnosing and treating, it is imperative that anyone wishing to use Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine as a part of their health care system, be treated by a fully trained, and educated Licensed Acupuncturist. Licensing laws vary state to state. Contact your local acupuncture society (www.csaom.org) or the Dept. of Public Health to find a qualified licensed practitioner in your area. Always "Request the Best" and see a Licensed Acupuncturist for your care.