If an acupuncture needle is placed in or around an area of local pain then some degree of pain relief is frequently achieved. This has led many Western doctors to use and develop this straightforward and logical system of point selection for pain relief. Some doctors treat the painful areas alone, whilst others look at the muscle groups that run over the painful area and treat these muscles. All these methods are used by the Chinese and are described in outline in the Nei Ching Su Wen. These Western methods of point selection probably represent a process of rediscovery, but in spite of their simplicity they are useful and helpful to the patient. Such systems illustrate the fact that acupuncture can be effective without the use of traditional Chinese concepts, but the acupuncturist can only apply these ideas to painful conditions because there are no tender points or local painful areas in diseases such as asthma. Furthermore, it is my impression that the pain relief obtained by the patient is better, and more prolonged, if the full range of traditional Chinese concepts is used.
The great advantage of these systems is that they are easy to learn and will therefore enable simple acupuncture methods to be widely used. Many Western doctors find the philosophical concepts of traditional Chinese medicine indigestible because they do not seem to be logical, and do not fit into the context of Western medical training. It is mainly for these reasons that these adapted and simplified forms of acupuncture are an acceptable form of therapy within current medical practice.
New Methods of Stimulating Acupuncture Points
Some of the new Western ideas about acupuncture are quit radical and may represent the beginnings of a completely new approach. Acupuncture points are now being stimulated by variety of techniques. Both Chinese and European firms has produced small electrical stimulators that allow small amplitude pulsed electrical currents to pass between sets of paired acupuncture needles. In China these electrical machines are used to replace prolonged manual stimulation of acupuncture needle in activities such as acupuncture anaesthesia. In the West electrical stimulation is often used as part of standard acupuncture therapy. The voltage used is small and painless and passed between acupuncture needles that have already been inserted into the skin.
As yet not enough is understood about electrical stimulation to give a clear answer as to exactly how it should be best use. There are also no clear guidelines about the frequency or intensity of electrical current that should be used on patients in any particular condition.
Biologically safe laser beams have also been used to stimulate acupuncture points and therefore to replace acupuncture needles. If used correctly these machines seem to be effective but a great deal of further work needs to be done before they can be properly evaluated. Some researchers are also interested in the use of magnets and magnetic fields over acupuncture points but the evaluation of these methods as a form of therapy is fraught with difficulty and is very much in its early stages.
The Pulse Reflex and Ear Acupuncture
Undoubtedly some of the most significant recent development in acupuncture have been achieved by Dr. Paul Nogier in France. The basis of many ideas that he puts forward depends on ‘pulse reflex’ which he calls the Auriculo-Cardiac Reflex (ACR). This reflex is distinct from the Chinese pulse diagnosis and seems to represent a completely new finding. The ACR seems to be a method of defining the response of the body to various stimuli but it was initially developed and used as a technique of point location for ear acupuncture.
The human body is a sophisticated biological system, and when exposed to any stimulus it should react. It has always been difficult to prove this because it has been difficult to measure the response exactly, but ACR will probably make it possible to effect this measurement. It seems reasonable to postulate that the more advanced the biological organism then the more pressure is on that organism to respond to small environmental changes. The automatic part of the nervous system seems to be best adapted to cope with these small but significant changes in the environment. This is the part of the nervous system the allows us to digest food and breathe without thought, and is called the autonomic nervous system. If a man is being chased by a lion he becomes frightened and the autonomic system aroused, releasing a variety of chemicals into the blood, such as adrenaline, thus giving the frightened man a surge of extra energy without extra conscious thought.
Dr. Nogier has claimed that the autonomic system also changes very slightly when exposed to any small stimulus, such as light on the skin. This small change can be felt in the pulse and this is the pulse reflex that is described as the ACR. The body is not consciously aware of all these small changes, if it was we would remain in a continual and unnecessary state of excitement; it responds and then adapts quickly and unconsciously the stimulus.
Dr. Nogier has used the ACR to develop a complete system diagnosis and point selection for ear acupuncture. It is a system which is not based on a knowledge of traditional Chinese ideas but relies solely on the use of the pulse reflex in controlled and defined clinical situations. It is probable that the autonomic system holds many of the answers to health and disease and it is likely that Dr. Nogier’s work will prove to be of great significance, but at present it is not fully developed and validated.
The Electrical Properties of Acupuncture Points
A variety of electrical appliances have been used by acupuncturists to measure and quantify the skin’s electrical resistance and conductance over acupuncture points, and one of the most sophisticated, and seemingly useful, is the apparatus developed by Dr. Voll in West Germany. He feels that acupuncture points are rather like batteries, and the charge on the acupuncture
point represents the state of health (or disease) of the point an the organ or tissue, deep in the body, which it represents. If the stomach is diseased, the points on the stomach channel (the. points are on the leg), will have an altered charge or, more exactly, an altered electro-motive force. There is a considerate body of research work that supports these ideas and proves that acupuncture points do have special electrical properties.
Voll’s machine acts as a system of diagnosis in that it tells the acupuncturist which points, and therefore which organs, are diseased. It can also be used to make quite specific diagnoses as slight differences in the charge of the point indicate different types of disease processes; furthermore, the acupuncturist Cal use Voll’s machine to treat the altered (diseased) charge. Returning the point to a state of normal charge, or health, is often enough to control and cure the internal disease process.
Dr. Voll’s work is firmly grounded in traditional Chine medicine and can be thought of as a sophisticated ‘electric formalization’ of traditional Chinese diagnosis and treatment There are other systems of acupuncture based on the same principle; Roidaraku, a Japanese system of acupuncture, similar in idea to that of the Voll machine but is less sophisticated. The acupuncture points are measured less specifically but electrical measurements of the points are made and the measurements are used as a basis for therapy.
A variety of other new acupuncture techniques are being developed in the West, but as yet these are poorly evaluated. China is a poor country and has little technology available, but the West is more able to develop and evaluate these technological ideas and, at present, is far ahead of China in doing so.