Acu 101: The Eight Principles

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of treatment that involves inserting very thin needles through a person’s skin at specific points on the body, to various depths. Research suggests that it can help relieve pain, and it is used for a wide range of other complaints. How acupuncture works scientifically remains unclear. Some people claim it works by balancing vital energy, while others believe it has a neurological effect. Acupuncture remains controversial among Western medical doctors and scientists.

How does it work?

Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of “yin” and “yang” of the life force known as “qi,” pronounced “chi.” Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces. Qi flows through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridians and energy flows are accessible through 365 acupuncture points in the body. By inserting needles into these points with appropriate combinations and manipulation techniques can bring the energy flow back into proper balance. Some experts have used neuroscience to explain acupuncture. Acupuncture points are seen as places where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated. The stimulation increases blood flow, while at the same time triggering the activity of the body’s natural painkillers.

It is difficult to set up investigations using proper scientific controls, because of the invasive nature of acupuncture. In a clinical study, a control group would have to undergo sham treatment, or a placebo, for results to be compared with those of genuine acupuncture. Some studies have concluded that acupuncture offers similar benefits to a patient as a placebo, but others have indicated that there are some real benefits.

Uses of acupuncture

  • Interior/Exterior. Your acupuncturist will look at your illness and determine if it is located in an interior organ or if it is caused by an exterior pathogen.
  • Hot/Cold. Your acupuncturist will determine if your imbalance is hot (like a fever) or cold (like chilliness).
  • Full (excess)/Empty (deficiency). Your acupuncturist checks the strength of your Qi and whether there is a pathogen present.
  • Yin/Yang. Your acupuncturist determines if your condition is primarily yin or yang in nature.

Research carried out in Germany has shown that acupuncture may help relieve tension headaches and migraines.

The NCCIH note that it has been proven to help in cases of:

  • low back pain
  • neck pain
  • osteoarthritis
  • knee pain
  • headache and migraine

They list additional disorders that may benefit from acupuncture, but which require further scientific confirmation.

If you’re not familiar with TCM, getting a diagnosis of “excess heat in the interior” won’t mean anything to you. But remember, the Eight Principles are patterns of imbalance.

Ask your acupuncturist what your diagnosis means. Then ask what symptoms point to that diagnosis.

Start observing your everyday complaints, aches, pains and health challenges. Notice if you regularly have symptoms that point to the diagnosis. It’s likely that you will start to see patterns in your symptoms, even if western medicine doesn’t understand the links between them.

Once you know your constitutional tendencies, you can begin a long term plan to balance your body and prevent illness.