Photo: woods wheatcroft photography

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WUHAN, CHINA - JULY 11:  A child is being treated with acupuncture for obesity at the Aimin Slimming Centre on July 11, 2007 in Wuhan of Hubei Province, China. Doctors in the center have combined acupuncture, exercise and diet to help about 110 obese teenagers from 9 to 20 years old lose weight during one month. An official from the Ministry of Health revealed that more than 200 million Chinese people are overweight.

Patients frequently ask, “Why don’t the needles hurt?” Most of us are familiar with the “ouch” that comes with an injection with a hypodermic needle, however acupuncture needles are very different and so is the feeling. The needles used by acupuncturists are much smaller diameter – more like thin wires. In fact, as students in Acupuncture college we experimented to see just how many acupuncture needles we could fit inside of a hypodermic. Eight!

So how else are they different? A hypodermic needle is like a tube used to pass material through the skin. In acupuncture, no substances are delivered by the needles. They are simply sterile “signal wires” used to communicate with the body’s nervous system. Another reason they are not painful is the shape of the tip. Instead of a tube with a bevel, as the tip of a hypodermic, the ancient Chinese designed the tip of an acupuncture needle like a pine needle. Therefore it slides smoothly and doesn’t hurt.

What does the needle touch? Acupuncture “points” are places on the body which are tried and true over the centuries for creating specific physiologic responses. For instance, the acupuncturist may want to prompt the patient’s body to regulate peristalsis (gut mobility) in order to care for a patient with diarrhea or constipation. A different acupuncture point could convey to the body to ease the muscle spasm causing sciatica or neck pain. Often the points used are located distal to the affected area, just because that is how the nervous system is designed. The acupuncturist doesn’t touch nerves with the needles, only the correct area of soft tissue to give the signal.

When the acupuncture needle is slid into the correct place, the patient’s soft tissue will very lightly “grab” the needle – like a fish grabbing bait – which informs the acupuncturist that the communication is received. Patients often feel this sensation and may call it a “zinger” because it is so quick. Once the pins are in place, people simply feel relaxed and may even doze off to sleep.

The arrangement of the acupuncture points on every human body is consistent and similar on all mammals. They are arranged in circuits often referred to as energy meridians. An Ohm meter passed along the skin on the meridians will indicate the acupoints as distinct areas with a different electrical charge. The “zinger sensation” coincides with as a rapid change in the electrical charge of that point of soft tissue.

Several factors influence how skillfully the acupuncture is being applied. The acupuncturist’s diagnosis and pattern recognition is the first step. For instance, if a patient reports having been diagnosed with “osteoarthritis”, their condition may be one of several distinct patterns of disharmony to the acupuncturist. Differential diagnosis is made based upon the patient’s answers to a wide range of questions about sleep, thirst, characteristics of the pain, etc. and observations of their face, tongue and pulses. Once the pattern is distinguished, the treatment principle and choice of acupoints is fairly clear. Then, of course, they must locate points correctly and apply the proper signal.

My tomcat, “Turbopurr”, a.k.a.” Razzledazzle”, is a perfect model of the sensitivity of acupuncture needles. His whiskers are flexible and just about the same diameter as an acupuncture needle. He uses them well, even in the dark, which is marvelous. Even more marvelous is that, when they brushed your arm, your nervous system can pick up the signal. If sterile signal wires that size are used to touch the right acupoints your body’s nervous system can perceive the signal and alter your physiology.

Be well, or call me for a “tune-up”.

Tess Hahn, OMD, L.Ac.

Dipl. Ac., (NCCAOM)

208-683-5211

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