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When learning acupuncture point location, acupuncturists have to memorize lots of information about the points so they know how and when to use them.
That includes where they are, and on which channels (also called 'meridians'), and how they may be located within the architecture of the body. If you’ve got a good memory, no problem.
Otherwise, tough and you’ll have to look it up.
Of course, some patients don’t mind holding the book open at the right page for you to check while you poke about their skin for the point, but in general this is not thought to create quite just the right impression.
This page isn't about where the acupuncture point locations are, but the question of actually finding them.
However, just a summary of the points to start with before getting down to discovering how an acupuncturist knows she has found the right place to insert the needle.
And the First Question is ...
|Channel Name||Chinese Description||No. of Points|
|Lung||Hand Tai (Greater) Yin|
|Large Intestine||Hand Ming (Bright) Yang|
|Stomach||Foot Ming (Bright) Yang|
|Spleen||Foot Tai (Greater) Yin|
|Heart||Hand Shao (Lesser) Yin|
|Small Intestine||Hand Tai (Greater) Yang|
|Bladder||Foot Tai (Greater) Yang|
|Kidney||Foot Shao (Lesser) Yin|
|Pericardium||Hand Jue (Absolute) Yin|
|Three Heater||Hand Shao (Lesser) Yang|
|Gallbladder||Foot Shao (Lesser) Yang|
|Liver||Foot Jue (Absolute) Yin|
|12 Channels||On each side of your body|
|Conception Vessel||Ren Mo|
|Governor Vessel||Du Mo|
|2 Midline Channels||'Extraordinary' vessels|
|Large Intestine 1||Shangyang||Merchant Yang||Large Intestine 11||Quchi||Crooked Pond|
|Large Intestine 2||Erjian||Second Interval||Large Intestine 12||Zhouliao||Elbow Bone|
|Large Intestine 3||Sanjian||Third Interval||Large Intestine 13||Wuli||Arm Five Miles|
|Large Intestine 4||Hegu||Join the Valley||Large Intestine 14||Binao||Upper Arm Muscles|
|Large Intestine 5||Yangxi||Yang Stream||Large Intestine 15||Jianyu||Shoulder Bone|
|Large Intestine 6||Pianli||Side Passage||Large Intestine 16||Jugu||Great Bone|
|Large Intestine 7||Wenliu||Warm Current||Large Intestine 17||Tianding||Heavenly Cauldron|
|Large Intestine 8||Xielian||Lower Side||Large Intestine 18||Futu||Supporting Prominence|
|Large Intestine 9||Shanglian||Upper Integrity||Large Intestine 19||Heliao||Stalk Crevice|
|Large Intestine 10||Shousanli||Arm Three Measures||Large Intestine 20||Yingxiang||Welcome Fragrance|
Stomach channel of Foot Yangming (Bright’ Yang) 45
Spleen channel of Foot Tai Yin (‘Greater’ Yin) 21
Heart channel of Hand Shao Yin (‘Lesser’ Yin) 9
Heart 7 Shenmen Spirit Gate
Small Intestine channel of Hand Tai Yang (‘Greater’ Yang) 19
Bladder channel of Foot Tai Yang (‘Greater’ Yang) 67
Bladder Point 1 - Jing Ming - Bright Eyes
Bladder Point 23 Shen shu
Bladder Point 67 - Zhiyin - Utmost Yin
Kidney channel of Foot Shao Yin (‘Lesser’ Yin) 27
Pericardium channel of Hand Jue Yin (‘Absolute Yin) 9
Pericardium 6 - Neiguan - Inner Frontier Gate
San Jiao channel of Hand Shao Yang (‘Lesser’ Yang) 23
Gallbladder channel of Foot Shao Yang (‘Lesser’ Yang) 44 Liver channel of Foot Jue Yin (‘Absolute Yin) 14
Liver 8, Ququan
|Ren-1||Huiyin||Yin Meeting Place||Ren-13||Shangwan||Upper Stomach Duct|
|Ren-2||Qugu||Crooked Bone||Ren-14||Juque||Great Palace Gateway|
|Ren-4||Guanyuan||Source Gate||Ren-16||Zhongting||Central Hall|
|Ren-5||Shimen||Stonegate||Ren-17||Shangzhong||Middle of the Chest|
|Ren-6||Qihai||Sea of Qi||Ren-18||Yutang||Jade Hall|
|Ren-7||Yin Jiao||Yin Intersection||Ren-19||Zigong||Purple Palace|
|Ren-8||Shenque||Spirit Palace Pathway||Ren-20||Huagai||Flower Covering|
|Ren-9||Shuifen||Water Separation||Ren-21||Xuanji||Jade Pearl|
|Ren-10||Xiawan||Lower Stomach Duct||Ren-22||Tiantu||Heavenly Rushing|
|Ren-11||Jianli||Earthing Within||Ren-23||Lianquan||Angle Spring|
|Ren-12||Zhongwan||Utmost Middle||Ren-24||Chengjiang||Fluid Container|
No, there are another 6 but those six ‘extra-ordinary’ meridians don’t have separate points of their own in addition to those listed above.
So, acupuncturists have to learn the acupuncture point location of each of all 359 points. That's just the start, because they must then learn what they do and how to use them - much more interesting.
Except for the Conception and Governing channels, the meridians are bilateral. You have a gallbladder organ under your liver organ on the right inside your abdomen. However, the Gallbladder channel runs with all its 44 points on both right and left sides of your body, starting beside each eye and ending on each of your fourth toes.
The bilateral meridians run in a loop. Start anywhere on one meridian and follow it along, into the next one and the next and so on, and eventually you arrive back where you started.
The Conception and Governing channels also form a loop running down the front and up the back – though there is another tradition which says that they both start (beside the anus) and finish together (inside the mouth), with the Conception channel running up the front, Yin, side, the Governor channel up the back, Yang side. Acupuncturists will argue about anything but both views have validity.
All the other meridians form a loop that relates to an important idea in traditional Chinese acupuncture theory: the idea of energy, or ‘qi’, the Chinese term. ('Qi' is pronounced 'TCHEE!')
This 'qi' is said to flow through the channels, from one acupuncture point location to the next via channels between them.
In relation to the meridian system, the theory is that qi completes the meridian circuit in 24 hours. Knowing the time of day, acupuncturists can tell which meridians are affected by the position of the qi and how this may be related to your symptoms.
This then enables acupuncturists to design treatment plans that incorporate the qi circuit: this can be a very effective method of treatment.
It goes further because the acupuncture point locations of the points then become very important when those points have a specific effect on the meridians concerned, because of the timing.
Understanding the relevance of the meridian circuit also explains why acupuncture produces changes often over a period of time and why in some cases you feel the main improvement beginning 24 hours after the actual treatment.
The accepted acupuncture point location of a number of points has an alternative location used by some acupuncturists instead. For example, Hegu, Large Intestine 4: the usual acupuncture point location is in the centre of the web formed between thumb and forefinger. Press your thumb against the forefinger so that the web between them is pushed up into a bulge.
At the highest point of the bulge so formed is usually where Hegu is found. It is quite a powerful point: when an acupuncture is inserted there you normally feel quite a strong gripping or cramping sensation.
In many people it is slightly painful if you pinch it with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand. (By the way, such pain implies an underlying imbalance in your health, you’ll be interested to know!)
However, because it is so powerful another nearby acupuncture point location for the same point is sometimes used, in the angle between the base of the first and second metacarpal bones. This point is between 1 and 2 cms proximal to the main Hegu point.
In sensation this point is less powerful, but in action it seems not so different though perhaps less dramatic.
As another example, an alternative acupuncture point location exists for Taixi, Kidney 3, one cun (see below for an explanation of the word 'cun') proximal to the usual acupuncture point location for it.
When texts describe an acupuncture point location, they normally do so by dividing the distance between two recognizable places on the body into a certain number of divisions or ‘cun’. For example, from the wrist crease to the elbow crease is 12 cun.
Wenliu, Large Intestine 7, is 5 cun or 5/12s of the distance from the wrist to the elbow crease on the line connecting Yangxi Large Intestine 5 and Quchi Large Intestine 11.
But no experienced acupuncturist would measure the exact distance and then insert the needle precisely there. She would always feel for the point with her fingers because everyone’s body is different and the text just explains where to look for the point.
In the same way, if you explain to somebody how to find a shop in a row of shops, you’d tell them the name and give its street number or approximate position.
For example you might be told that a shop was “Half way along the street on the North side”.
With this you wouldn’t automatically go into the shop precisely half-way along – you’d walk along and when you got about half-way you’d recognise the shop by its name or description. Just the same with acupuncturists: you know where the acupuncture point location is supposed to be, and starting from there you look for, or feel for, the exact place.
Even so you might miss the point. Sometimes the actual acupuncture point location can be a millimetre from where you actually insert the needle and you might not get it fully until you re-insert at the right place.
So what is the acupuncturist feeling for? People vary, and so do acupuncturists who describe it in different ways.
Running her fingers along the meridian, knowing pretty well where to expect it, she encounters a change in how she feels the skin. Somehow it feels different to the skin around.
Either her finger feels as if it is in a small depression in the surface of the skin (and sometimes there really is a small depression there, at the intersection formed between two muscles, for example).
Or the skin at the acupuncture point location feels resistant, sticky, a bit drier than its surrounding. It may feel slightly tingly or attractive, like a magnet.
Usually, recognizing this sensation comes with practice and may be less effective if the acupuncturist is tired, cold, indisposed or ill.
Using an infrared camera also exposes the points, but acupuncturists don't usually have these. Equally, the electrical resistance at acupuncture point locations is different from the surrounding skin, and many acupuncturists do use probes which emit a higher pitched squeak when at the point.
However, using electric probes does distance the acupuncturist from her patient, and therapists overlook the benefits of hands-on touch at their peril. It moves us away from real interaction with our patients towards using intermediate devices instead.
Touch gives enormous advantages if we can recognize what it means and how to use it. Much modern medicine is so clinical that for some patients human touch and response is a revelation. For many practitioners the use of more senses makes it more enjoyable. So we advise - use your hands!
If an acupuncturist does regular qi gathering work on himself such as Tai Qi or Qigong practice, he may also be able to sense the exact acupuncture point location by holding the tip of the needle just above the surface of the skin until he feels the ‘connection’ between the qi gathering in his hand and the qi gathering beneath the tip of the needle at the acupoint.
Acupuncturists who use this method sometimes describe it like a magnet being pulled: like potential energy awaiting release.
This is rather like what happens during a lightning strike when energy above meets energy below. Fortunately this is less dramatic.
There are other forms of feedback. The patient can usually feel the ‘qi at work’, either at the site of the needle or along the meridian in question, or in a change in her symptoms. (For example, the nose clears, or the headache goes, or the patient feels less depressed.)
What do I mean by the qi at work?
What sensations does the acupuncturist expect her patient to have? People vary, and so do their descriptions, depending on their educational and emotional resources, so where one patient might say he feels a ‘rushing’ another might describe it as a ripple effect, or ‘something going down my leg ...’.
Not all acupuncture points have clear sensations expected of them.
Sensations when deqi is obtained have been reported like this:
“Aching, soreness and pressure were most common, followed by tingling, numbness, dull pain, heaviness, warmth, fullness and coolness.” (Characterizations of the "deqi" response in acupuncture. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2007 Oct 31)
What’s going on here, from a scientific perspective?
It is suggested that there is “involvement of a wide spectrum of myelinated and unmyelinated nerve fibers, particularly the slower conducting fibers in the tendinomuscular layers.”(Op cit.)
What happens if you do the same procedure on an acupuncture meridian but away from one of its accepted acupoints?
Theory says that the qi can be contacted anywhere along a meridian, but that the accepted acupoints are where it is most susceptible to interaction.
In practice acupuncturists tend to treat only at the recognized acupoints but there’s nothing to stop them inserting needles at other places along the meridians, except that the energetic actions of these intermediate points would not be known.
Being a little conservative most acupuncturists prefer the identified acupoints because we are aware of what they do.
However, most acupuncturists often use acupressure along meridians, when they massage or tap or stroke the meridians along their length, often some distance from recognised acupuncture points.
Of course there are many other points on the body than are found in the 359 points mentioned. Some of these are related to existing meridians through experience and observation, yet haven’t been incorporated; others stand quite clearly in their own right.
Locating them is done as with the meridian points: follow the description of position then feel for the actual acupuncture point location position with your fingertips.
Another benefit of increasing sensitivity in one's fingertips is that you'll learn to recognize sore points, previously unmentioned by the patient. This increases trust between patient and practitioner and gives a much deeper awareness of the patient's condition.
In addition, many patients have what are called ‘ah shi’ points which become acupuncture points for a while during illness and can be treated as such. How do you know it’s an acupuncture ‘ah shi’ point? Answer, by pressing it. If it’s sore, it’s an ‘ah shi’ point! Once treated, or after the patient recovers, the point is no longer painful and ceases to be an ah shi point.
The other way an acupuncturist knows he has reached the right place after inserting the needle (assuming he is in the right place of course), is through feedback via the needle. When a needle is inserted into a non-point, ie a place that is not an acupuncture point, it just feels like fishing in empty water.
But when the needle touches the ‘qi’ in the meridian, the fish bites: the needle is gripped – it becomes slightly harder or stickier to turn. Very often, the musculature in the region also tenses slightly. The effect is that the needle is heavier, more sluggish to move even if it feels more alive. The description of this is ‘de qi’ or ‘holding qi’. This is explained as the needle being gripped by the patient’s qi at that point.
‘De qi’ is usually a good sign. You know you’ve reached the right place. Your knowledge of the theory of acupuncture then helps you decide what to do with the needle, because just having the needle ‘gripped’ is only the beginning of your work. Just as a traffic policeman attracts the attention of a driver, the driver looks to the policeman to tell him what to do (stop, go, turn left, turn right, wait there for us to discuss your driving behaviour, follow me to the jail!...). The acupuncturist with deqi can then manipulate the energy in the meridian and through that the qi of the patient.
However, not all acupuncture traditions require that deqi be obtained. It is, however, very useful feedback.
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