Acupuncture is a branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The earliest references to it, date back to 200BC, approximately 2000 years ago. Other branches of Chinese medicine include Qigong (exercise therapy aimed to promoting health) and Tuina (Remedial massage and orally taken Herbs).
Acupuncture treatment is aimed at regulating channels on the surface of the body that can have a corresponding effect on internal function as well as the mental and emotional wellbeing of the patient.
Needles are directed towards local points around the patient's complaint or distally (away from the problem area). For example, headaches may be treated with points around the ankles or wrists. In other instances, points on the abdomen or upper back may be stimulated to reflect the underlying cause. During a treatment the acupuncturist will find the area and specific points that need to be treated via the four inspections: looking; listening and smelling; inquiring; palpation.
During an acupuncture treatment, the practitioner begins observing the patient from when they walk into the clinic or at the first possible opportunity therein. Whether it is a patient's movement patterns or demeanour, information can be gleaned as to their issue or complaint.
Listening refers to the process of observing the patients voice, breath and other sounds. For example the tone, delivery and quality of a person's speech or breathing can be informative. A person's smell may also be suggestive of underlying patterns. Smell is evidenced subtly and is less commonly utilized with the regularity of personal hygiene in the modern era. The next step is the process of inquiring or questioning as to the history and nature of the patient's complaint.
Lastly the practitioner begins the process of palpation (investigative pressing) either of the local area, close to the complaint, or distally related areas along the respectice Chinese medicine Channel system. For example, when palpating someone with lower back pain, a practitioner will press points along the Taiyang foot meridian from the outside surface of the little toe, up the outside of the ankle, up to the calf, hamstring and glutes. Whilst taking into account the indications of the points that are reactive and what they may in turn suggest about the patient's complaint.
The information is then considered alongside the history taken, the patient's other signs and symptons to form a clinical picture. This process allows a practitioner to effectively treat areas that may also contribute to a patient's complaint without their own knowledge.
The Chinese Medicine Channel system has parallels in Western Medical Science. For example, the system of fascia observed by Western Medicine (which interconnects different areas of the body) closely parallels the Channel system. For further reading check out "Anatomy Trains", by Thomas W. Myers.
Chinese Medicine, draws on the rich tradition of Taoism as a means of navigating the information that a practitioner gleans. Terms such as Yin and Yang may come up during a consultation. These terms are not absolutes or definitive, rather they form a continuum, within which a patient's presentation may be understood and treated accordingly.
In the Tao De Jing (seminal text of Taoism) the opening phrase reads,
"Tao (The Way) that can be spoken of is not the Constant Tao'
The name that can be named is not a Constant Name".
Like the ever evolving nature of the individual human being, acupuncture as an intervention is always changeable. What one patient experiences and gains from it, will ultimately be different from what another patient experiences and gains. Which is to say, each treatment reflects the patient's specific needs, rather than a formulaic approach.