Acupuncture Points Overview
In Latin "acus" means needle and "punctura" means penetration or prick.
||Acupuncture is the art and
science of stimulating specific points on the body to mobilize the
body's internal healing mechanisms. From ancient times it was
discovered that, by stimulating distinct sites on the body's surface,
diseases in both the superficial tissues and internal organs could be
treated, and that pathology in an internal organ will often manifest
itself in certain external or systemic symptoms.
Conjecture has it that thousands of years B.C., when man suffered from an
ailment, or injury, or felt pain in some part of his body, it was
observed that his natural tendency was to massage the tender area with
his hands. Over time, this observation in the relationship between pain
and its relief, through stimulation at the tender area, led to the
systematic identification of points, their cause-and-effect
relationships, diversification and sophistication in the correlation of
points to diseases, and their integration by function within the larger
scope of acupuncture Channel theory.
Stimulation (massage) of pain points first began by using the hands.
Then stimulation (pressure) with a blunt stone became the early basis
for acupuncture. Today, stimulation (needling) of acupuncture points is
accomplished with very fine stainless steel needles.
There are approximately 1,000 acupuncture points (also called
acupoints). An acupoint may be thought of as places where the energy of
a Channel converges and accumulates, like a vortex, and gets
transported to the body surface. Because of the converging,
accumulating and surfacing behavior, these points are particularly
conducive to manipulation.
The vast majority of acupoints have both local and distal effects. For
example, a point on the hand may be used to treat local symptoms of
hand pain or it can be used to treat a symptom farther along the
Channel, such as eye pain or nasal congestion. It may also treat an
area not directly supplied by the Channel, such as ankle pain, based on
the interrelationships between the Channels.
Of the approximately 1,000 acupoints, 361 to 365 are located on
Channels that have a relationship with the Internal Organ systems
difference in the above number reflects differences in interpretation
and source.) The concept of Channels is integral to acupuncture
practice and theory. It is through the Channel functions and Channel
relationships with the Internal Organs and tissues that the points are
given systemic integration. One aspect of this integration is the fact
that points along a Channel share many of the same therapeutic
properties. Without the integrating and systemic networking of
Channels, acupoints may be limited in scope and deemed to be random
Classification of Acupuncture Points
There are four classifications of acupuncture points as follows:
A. Channel Points
- 14 Primary Channels: There are 12 Organ
Channels each connected with one of the 12 Internal Organs. These 12
occur bilaterally on each side of the vertical midline of the body to
make up a total of 24 channels. Each of the 12 Organ Channels has its
own set of points. These 12 Channels, along with the Ren and Du Vessels
comprise the 14 Primary Channels. According to Chinese texts there are
361 to 365 of the Primary Channel points.
- Eight Extraordinary Vessels: There are eight
Extraordinary Vessels (also referred to as Eight Extra Vessels or Eight
Miscellaneous Channels). Only two of these have their own specific
points. These two are the Ren Vessel, traversing the front midline of
he body, and the Du Vessel, traversing the back midline along the
spine. The remaining six Extra Vessels are accessed by a few specific
points belonging to the 14 Primary Channels.
- The 12 Divergent Channels, 15 Connecting
Collateral Channels, 12 Muscle Regions, and 12 Cutaneous Regions all
utilize and share a few points belonging to one of the 14 Primary
For additional information about Channels, please see the section on Channels
B. Miscellaneous (Extra) Points
C. Pain ('Ashi') Points
- The majority of Miscellaneous Points (also
referred to as Extra Points) do not belong to any specific Channel.
However, a few of these 'points' are groups or clusters of points that
may or may not belong to Channels. There may be hundreds of these
points but only about 40 are commonly noted in classical Chinese texts.
D. Modern Points
- Pain point or 'Ashi' is a general term
referring to points on the patient's body that become tender (painful,
sensitive to the touch) during illness or injury. They are not fixed
points but are unique to the individual. Ashi points may remain fixed
for a period of time, or come and go, and can move around the body.
These points are located simply by the spontaneous tenderness the
patient feels or by palpating (pressing, touching) affected areas.
- Modern points are those that have been
recently discovered and added to the practice of acupuncture. Many of
these points were discovered in conjunction with the practice of modern
allopathic medicine. For example, by comparing the anatomical pathways
of the nervous system with traditional Channel theory or through the
use of electrical probes, new points located along major nerve trunks
and branches were discovered.
Category of Points
There are numerous groupings of points
regarded as special because of their anatomical locations and
functional characteristics. A few of the major categories are listed
A. Five Shu (Transporting) Points
B. Six Lower He Sea (Lower Uniting) Points
- A group of five points on each of the 12
Primary Organ Channels are collectively named Shu points. These five
points exist bilaterally on each of the 12 Channels. Each group is
located on the limbs below the elbow on the arm channels, and below the
knees on the leg channels.
- The Five Shu points on each of the 12 Channels
are designated as Well, Gushing, Transporting, Traversing and Uniting
points. They are named sequentially so that the Well points are the
most distal at the fingers and toes, and the Uniting points are most
proximal being located near the elbows and knees.
- Together, the Five Shu points represent the
growth of Qi in the channels from its shallow and distant beginnings
(Well points at the fingers and toes) to its deep, swelling and
accumulating presence (Uniting points at the elbows and knees) before
the Qi goes more deeply interior into the body.
- Because of their locations near the
superficial areas of the body, some of these points can be a bit
sensitive on needling. But because of their special properties they are
C. Sixteen Xi Cleft (Accumulating) Points
- The six Yang Channels each have a Lower He Sea point used to treat disorders of their respective Yang organs.
- The six Yang organs are the Stomach, Large Intestines, Small Intestines, Bladder, Gall Bladder and San Jiao (Triple Burner).
D. Twelve Back Shu Points
- The 16 Xi Cleft points are thought of as holes
or clefts at the site where Qi and Blood in the channels converge and
accumulate as they circulate through the body.
- Xi Cleft points are used primarily in the treatment of acute diseases or as diagnostics tools when palpating.
E. Twelve Front Mu Points
- The 12 Back Shu points are all located along
the Bladder Channel on each side of the spine. There is one Back Shu
point for each of the 12 Primary Organs.
- Back Shu points are points through which the
circulating Qi of their respective Organs passes. They are used
primarily to treat chronic disorders of the Organs and for diagnostics
- They are more commonly used to treat disorders
of the six Yin organs which are the Lungs, Spleen, Heart, Pericardium,
Liver and Kidneys.
F. Eight Influential (Meeting) Points
- Like the Back Shu points there are 12 Front Mu points located on the chest and abdomen corresponding to the 12 Internal Organs.
- Front Mu points are also used to treat diseases of the Internal Organs and for diagnostics purposes.
- There are eight points deemed to have a special normalizing effect on Organs, tissues, Blood and Qi.
- An Influential Point exists affecting one of the following areas:
- Yin Organs
- Yang Organs
- Muscles and Tendons
- Blood Vessels
Within the practice of Acupuncture, there are
different techniques or modalities. It is at the personal discretion of
the practitioner to utilize one mode in favor of another. In my
practice, several of the following modalities may be combined in a
treatment session according to the patient's individual needs and
A. Body Acupuncture
B. Scalp Acupuncture
- Body acupuncture simply consist of utilizing
the various different classification of points discussed above. These
include the Primary Points, Miscellaneous Points, Pain Points and
Modern Points. Body points cover a wide region including the head,
face, trunk, limbs, hands, and feet.
C. Auricular (Ear) Acupuncture
- Scalp acupuncture consists of using points
located on the scalp. Similar to body points, points on the scalp have
been associated with the Internal Organs as well as the neurological
aspects of physiology.
- In most instances, scalp points are utilized
for neurological, sensory and motor disorders such as paralysis,
tremors, shaking, numbness, tingling, etc., resulting from stroke,
Parkinson's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and other nervous system
- Various regions throughout Asia may use
different theoretical and topographical constructs of scalp therapy.
Dr. T. Yamamoto of Japan is renowned for developing a modern topography
of scalp points that are somewhat different from classical Asian scalp
D. Korean 4-Needle (Sa-am) Theory
- Of the 12 Primary Organ Channels, all six of
the Yang Channels traverse the ear either directly or through
connecting channels. The six Yin Channels do not have direct
connections but are indirectly linked through their Internal-External
relationships with the Yang Channels.
- In conjunction with the Internal Organs
theory, points on the front and back of the external ear are associated
with Internal Organs such that diseases of the organs can be treated
with direct stimulation of ear. However, as a comprehensive system of
diagnosis and treatment, ear acupuncture as a modality is a newer
theory. In the 1950's, Dr. Nogier of France extensively studied the
behavior of ear points and developed a slightly modified topographical
view of the ear.
- Ear points can be needled to treat a wide range of disorders from musculoskeletal to addiction related disorders.
E. Master Tong (Tung) Acupuncture
- Korean 4-Needle (also referred to as Sa-am)
theory is a complex and comprehensive theory of diagnosis and
acupuncture treatment emphasizing the interrelationships between the
Five Elements. It was developed by Master Sa-Am, a physician and monk
of the Chosun Dynasty in Korea. For over 400 years the art and science
of this technique remained lost and hidden until recent discovery
enabled its recovery and study.
- Sa-am theory utilizes a special category of
points known as Shu Points and applies these points according to the
Generating and Controlling Sequences of the Five Elements theory. Only
four points are chosen. For example, two points are from the primary
Channel being treated, and two from the Grandmother channel according
to a tonifying (strengthening) and sedating (lessening) technique.
- In Korea, Korean Oriental Medicine (KOM),
known as Hanbang, is the primary health care system for more than 20%
of the population. KOM is widely integrated with Western allopathic
medicine throughout many hospitals in Korea. There, KOM modalities
including Sa-am 4-Needle technique, Sasang Korean Constitutional
medicine, and Korean Hand acupuncture are equally relied upon along
with classical methods.
- Master Tong (Tung) was a modern practitioner
who is said to have passed down his family's secrets prior to his
death. His acupuncture consists of using the existing Channel Points
and Extra Points in ways not commonly utilized under the Channel
theory. The technique involves selecting only a few discrete points
according to specific ailments and symptoms. It is commonly applied in
cases of pain syndromes.
Functions and Indications of Acupoints
The majority of the Channel Points are known to
have multiple functions and indications. The differences between a
function and indication can be explained as follows:
- A function may be thought of as a Treatment Strategy or Treatment Principle.
- A Treatment Strategy/Principle can be thought of as a summarization and general principle, or mechanism of action.
- Examples include: Clear Heat; Disperse Cold,
Drain Dampness; Resolve Phlegm; Descend Rebellious Qi; Cool the Blood;
Remove Obstruction, Expel Wind, Calm the Mind, Tonify Qi; Harmonize
Blood, Nourish Yin; Supplement Yang; etc.
- Indications refer to the discrete symptoms for which a point is effective.
- Examples include: cough; abdominal pain; insomnia; headache; dizziness; spasms; blurred vision; skin itch; etc.
An example is given below on the functions and indications of an important
acupoint, Large Intestine 4 (LI4)
, located on the hand near the
junction of the thumb and index finger:
Functions of LI4:
- Expels Exterior Wind and releases the Exterior
- Promotes distribution of Lung-Qi
- Regulates Defensive Qi and sweating
- Stops pain
- Removes obstruction from the Channel
- Tonifies Qi and consolidates the Exterior
- Harmonizes the ascending and descending of Qi
- Benefits the eyes, nose, ears and mouth
- Promotes labor
- Calms the Mind
Indications of LI4:
Chills, fever, sneezing, headache, sweating, absence of sweating,
toothache, painful obstruction of the throat, facial swelling, lockjaw,
deviation of the eye, hemiplegia, arm pain, tinnitus, deafness,
redness/swelling/pain of the eye, blurred vision, nosebleed, nasal
congestion and discharge, sneezing, amenorrhea, prolonged labor,
delayed labor, and retention of dead fetus.
In applying the point LI4, or any acupoint, to any of its indications,
it is most effective when used on pathology resulting from one of the
scenarios addressed by its Function. For example, if eye pain and
blurred vision are caused by Blood Deficiency requiring the treatment
principle of Nourishing the Blood, LI4 by itself is not adequate as
Nourishing the Blood is not one of its Functions. In this case, it must
be combined with other points that Nourish the Blood in order to treat
both the indication (eye pain and blurred vision) as well as the
underlying condition (Blood Deficiency-induced eye symptoms).
Manipulation: Even, Tonify, Sedate
Some acupoints are homeostatic. This means that
it has a regulating function to bring the body back to balance
regardless of the manifested symptom. For example, a point that
regulates the bowels can be used whether the patient is experiencing
diarrhea or constipation. The degree of efficacy, however, is affected
by combining the regulating point with other points that are more
specific in treating either the diarrhea or the constipation aspect.
In many cases, however, the practitioner must 'tell' a point which
Treatment Principle to take - either tonify to astringe the diarrhea or
sedate to promote bowel movement. Two of the more common ways this is
Direction of insertion
Twirling of the needle after insertion
- When the needle is slanted along the Qi flow of the channel, this produces a tonifying effect.
- When the needle is slanted against the Qi flow of the channel, this produces a sedating effect.
- When the needle is pointed perpendicular to the channel, this results in an even effect.
- If the needle is twirled back and forth in a clockwise direction, this produces a tonifying or even effect.
- If the needle is twirled back and forth in a counterclockwise direction, this produces a sedating effect.
An Even method allows the acupoint to manifest its effects without any
particular constraints. A Tonifying method tells the point to use a
strengthening principle in the case of a Deficient condition. And a
Sedating method tells the point to subdue an Excess condition and expel
a pathogen which may have invaded the body.
Art and Science of Acupuncture
The science of acupuncture is evidenced by
predictability. An acupoint needled with a specified method (even,
tonify, sedate) will produce an expected outcome based on its known
properties and Channel relationships. Mastery of the science involves
knowledge of the points' location, functions, indications,
applications, contraindications, needling technique, interactions with
other points, and more.
The artisty of acupuncture is more elusive. Artistry applies to the way
a practitioner selects a particular group of points, among similarly
behaving points, that will not only produce a desired effect, but do so
in a way that will address the patient's underlying condition in an
harmonious way. At the heart of the Medicine is the philosophy of
balance and harmony. Therefore, the artistry entails selection of
points uniquely appropriate to each patient with the attempt to balance
the following aspects at each treatment:
- Yin and Yang polarities
- Upper body and Lower body potential energies
- Left and Right hemisphere energetics
- Distal and Local points interactions
Remaining true to this philosophy, for each patient at each session,
requires the labor of thought and the burden of thinking. In addition
to balancing the four aspects listed above, one must also ensure
combining points to marry the function with the indications, and to
pair Channels not only based on Yin-Yang and External-Internal
relationships but also by their supportive and related functions and
areas of effect.
How easy it is to gather a discrete group of points designed to
ameliorate symptoms but leave the underlying condition largely
untouched. The patient would not be any wiser for it. Yet, to disregard
this fundamental principle of balance and harmony, however strenuous
the application, is to sacrifice long-term healing over short-term
gains, and to compromise efficacy for efficiency.
In truth, artistry
begins with knowledge. Knowledge must be flavored by creativity. And
creativity must evolve through failures and mature through successes.
Only then can art support the practice and the practice promote the