Acupuncture points

Acupuncture is a practice dating back over 2000 years to ancient China, and it is only more recently (in the past century or so) that it has become a major, sought after alternative therapy here in the UK. In this article we look at one of the fundamental tenets of this ancient tradition, the acupuncture points which are targeted by practitioners across the world.

What are acupuncture points?

Acupuncture points the specific parts of the body targeted by acupuncturists during treatment sessions. They are based on the ancient Chinese belief that the human body is suffused with channels or vessels called meridians, structures responsible for carrying a vital life force called Qi to every part of the body. Essential to this belief is the understanding that disease is caused by disruptions in Qi flow which can be remedied through acupuncture.

Based on this, acupuncture points, also known as acupoints, are specific junctures in the body at which the flow of Qi can be blocked. There are well over 400 acupoints mapped across the length and breadth of the human body, each one corresponding to a particular organ or bodily structure (as well as extra points that do not correspond to any one in particular.

Each acupoint can be referred to by a particular name, and are further characterised according to the traditional Chinese philosophy of yin and yang. Yin and yang are the opposing masculine and feminine forces in the Chinese tradition, and while two thirds of the body’s acupoints are yang acupoints, a third are yin.

These beliefs have been carried over the thousands of years of acupuncture tradition, however many Western acupuncturists and health authorities have attempted to re-interpret these traditional Chinese beliefs in light of a more modern understanding of physiology and anatomy.

With so many distinctive acupoints possessed of specific properties, the Wold Health Organisation (WHO) decided to compile a list of all known and commonly used acupuncture points. These include:

  • 21 distinct acupoints on the Spleen Meridian affecting the workings of the spleen.
  • 9 acupuncture points on the Heart Meridian which govern the heart.
  • 19 points on the Small Intestine Meridian responsible for the workings of the small intestine.
  • 67 acupoints on the Bladder meridian affecting the urinary bladder.

Is there any correlation between acupuncture points and what we know about human anatomy?

Attempts to scientifically prove the existence of Qi have thus far failed, and similarly research into the existence of meridians has also proven fruitless. A great deal of effort has been invested into determining a physiological basis for traditional acupoints, and no research to date has shown a consistent correlation or parallel between these acupuncture points and anatomical features of the human body.  

Despite this there are a number of theories as to how and why acupuncture works through the application of needles to specific points on the body, however these have yet to be proven to any degree of certainty. In some circles it is thought that acupuncture points correlate to specific nerve endings which, when stimulated, release pain killing neurotransmitters, however the correlation between such nerve endings and the 400 odd acupoints on the body have yet to be established.

Interestingly some evidence has shown that stimulating specific acupuncture points can achieve therapeutic ends, despite our poor understanding of how this may be achieved. The P6 point situated on the wrist was shown by over 40 independent studies to effectively prevent vomiting and nausea following surgical procedures. The effect observed was comparable to that which is achieved through anti-nausea (anti-emetic) medication.

Acupuncture points and the practice of acupuncture as a whole are subject to a great deal of discussion and disagreement across the world, primarily because despite so many years of research, no real conclusions have been drawn about the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating the dozens of conditions which practitioners claim they can remedy. At present convincing evidence only exists to support acupuncture as a means of treating lower back pain and post-surgical nausea. In time however, it is possible that further research will reveal more about this ancient tradition which is now extensively used in the Western world.

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