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  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Beyond the Point

Today I would like to write a bit about one glaring observation I have made about many people who wish to study acupuncture. A typical acupuncture introductory course would undoubtedly begin with coverage of the basic theories of Oriental Medicine. This should be obvious as acupuncture evolved from and developed alongside Oriental Medicine as a modality of that particular medical system.

What do I mean by medical system? The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine defines a whole or complete medical system as “complete systems of theory and practice that have evolved over time in different cultures and apart from conventional or western medicine.” Note, The definition emphasizes the word theory and not just practice. It is unfortunate that many acupuncturist wanna-bes simply want to practice without fully appreciating the theory!

Why do I say this? It is a common complaint among instructors of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or any other form of oriental medicine that western students eventually grow bored from studying the basic theories. Oriental medicine ultimately traces its theoretical origins to the core medical texts of China. These texts, such as the Huangdi Neijing, or Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, enumerate and expound on theories such as Yin and Yang, Qi and Blood, Five Phases, and Meridian Theory, among others. When these texts spread to Japan and Korea and others, they developed their own subtypes of oriental medicine based on these theories.

These theories are important in diagnosis, point selection and treatment. In fact, Five Phase Theory and it’s Five Transporting Points are partially validated by science as I posted previously. (

The problem with studying these basic theories is that, at times, they seem so esoteric and out of this world that it is hard for the western medical mind to grasp these as being necessary. This mind then tries to fast forward through the perceived triteness and tries to go to the “fun” part. They want to go straight to point selection.

The proper attitude should have been “hmmm, what is the cause of the headache? Is it environmental, diet, emotional? What points can I use to resolve this situation?” Instead, it becomes “what are the points for headache?”

This COULD work, actually, for the common diseases. You could treat by symptom and have a measure of success. Unfortunately, that is the limit of one’s capability. The practitioner is then unable to use the treasures of the theory in order to innovate and come up with one’s own solutions to problems.

An example I frequently give was a case I had years ago. The patient had a rare form of skin cancer that manifested on his foot. It was so bad that his entire leg was swollen up to the knee. Now, the patient wanted the foot pain treated. If one simply went by the book, the points recommended would be all below the knee. The edema rendered this difficult. I personally do not needle edematous limbs for fear of infection.

What happened? I then used some meridian theory. The pain was located at one end of the Kidney meridian. I then treated it by needling the other end of the meridian, near the shoulder.

With success, of course.

I suggest that one reason many so-called acupuncturists have poor clinical outcomes is that they do not go beyond the book. I further suggest that one must really appreciate basic theory in order to get anywhere in oriental medicine.


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