Each acupuncture point has a whole range of different effects. This is one reason why acupuncture can treat a number of conditions at once and can be personalised to each individual. So it is not a question of choosing one acupuncture point for a particular health problem, in the way that a Western medicine drug is designed to treat one problem. Instead, I choose a collection of points that will work together to address the important, or underlying, problems. Everything you tell me about yourself, both the physical and emotional aspects, is important. Taken together, they inform my short term and long term treatment plans and point selection.
Take for example an acupuncture point on the hand which has the Chinese name of ‘Hegu’.
Each acupuncture point is on a specific channel or meridian and Hegu is the 4th point on the acupuncture meridian that is labelled Large Intestine. Confusingly, this does not really relate to the length of bowel that Western medicine calls ‘large intestine’ . In Chinese medicine, Hegu has much more to do with our respiratory system and its meridian travels up the arm to the face, especially the nose. So I often combine it with other points to treat face and sinus problems – in China it is said to ‘benefit the face’. But Hegu is also good for moving Qi more generally. I often use it in conjunction with a point on the foot to encourage Qi to move more smoothly round the body, to treat muscle tension and relax the mind – a combination that is called ‘four gates’. Its action of moving Qi also makes it good at expelling things from the body – including babies when we use it to induce labour! More commonly I use it to get rid of Wind (linked to coughing and sneezing) and to get rid of Heat.
At an even more fundamental level, Hegu is a key point for strengthening the Metal element. Metal is one of the Five Elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood) that influence your constitutional energy (i.e. the make-up you are born with). We all have the five elements inside us and need them to be in balance. If Metal is the element that is most defines your constitution and health, then treating Hegu, with its paired point, Lung 9, is a key way of rebalancing and strengthening your system. Metal links to the season of autumn and to the respiratory system and lung, so tonifying Hegu and the other points on the Metal meridian is especially important at this time of year.
There are over 360 acupuncture points, all with a variety of possible uses. So we are never short of choice! More commonly it can be difficult to keep the treatment simple – a treatment that uses fewer points and is focused on your constitutional Element can often be the best of all. A long-term aim of acupuncture treatment is to help you find your ‘authentic self’ and to find a way to a fulfilling life. Hegu is, above all, an important part of this.