Acupuncture taught at Western Universities is usually a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine style of acupuncture which can incorporate a distal point or two, but often more needles are located closer to the site of disharmony; there are however many different styles which practitioners study & practice post-graduate. In addition to the general study of TCM, Mark has trained in two popular styles of Distal Acupuncture – ‘Master Tung Style’ and ‘The Balance Method.’
Master Tung was a famous modern day acupuncturist from Mainland China who later settled in Taiwan; he was not formally trained, but honed his skills from a family lineage of acupuncturists from whom secrets were passed from father to the eldest son over many generations.
Balance Method Acupuncture is based on ancient I-Ching theory, modernized in recent times by the late revered Dr Richard Tan. Dr Tan was an engineer before immigrating to the USA and spent many decades analyzing and perfecting his own acupuncture techniques which have become famous worldwide in recent times.
Distal Acupuncture uses theories of embryology to explain its effect on different areas of the body through neural pathways to the brain, which have existed since the time that the body was still a foetus. We all start out the same way, as you see from the photo below – everything is connected, it is only later that the limbs separate, however the neurological connections still exist many decades later.
The photo below shows a distal acupuncture point used for fertility, as you can see the points are located nowhere near the gonads, however they are highly effective points for fertility.
(photo courtesy of ‘Art of Acupuncture’)
For physical symptoms, practitioners will often needle points of similar body landmarks on the opposite side of the body, or even opposite and distally such as needling the shoulder to resolve pain in the hip.
There is an excellent book, which details these theories called ‘The Spark in the Machine’ it was written by a Western Medicine ER Doctor known as Daniel Keown, it explains these theory in everyday language.
Although needling locally (traditional acupuncture) is beneficial for some conditions by increasing blood flow to the area, for acute conditions you could think of it like – shaking an overtired crying baby, which is only likely to seriously exacerbate the problem!! A smarter approach (similar to distal acupuncture) is to use techniques which will lull them into a sound sleep from afar, music in the background, rocking the cradle, aromatherapy etc, etc.
The benefits of a distal style include the fact that most treatments are on the arms & legs, so there is no need to disrobe; secondly it relies on the ‘Homokulus Effect’ (see the diagram below):
Because our hands and our feet are so important to our everyday function, they use a proportionally large area of our brain’s motor cortex, needling in these places has a very strong effect. For this reason distal acupuncture typically uses fewer needles with a higher rate of success.
Using specific neural pathways the intervention sends a signal to the brain via the nervous system to release natural painkillers through the circulatory system, vasodilation occurs delivering extra nutrients and oxygen to heal the affected area. Treatments are quick, effective and I have found that they have better results in the longer term.
Most people who experience a Distal Acupuncture session are usually slightly confused initially, it isn’t always obvious why a practitioner might be needling an unrelated body part, however they are often later amazed with the results experienced.
Dr Tan would often explain the distal theory by saying that the switch that ‘turns on the light’ need not be at the actual site of pain, it can be located anywhere in the room, no matter how large – so long as there is an electrical connection…