09 Jul Why put a needle in the hand when the pain is in the back?
Why do they put needles in places it doesn’t hurt?
Have you ever gone to an acupuncturist for back pain and get a treatment on the right hand, which seems to have nothing to do with the pain in the back? This is based on the unique principle of treatment in Oriental Medicine where the right side of the body is treated when pain occurs on the left side, and vice versa. Similarly, when there’s pain towards the top of the body, the lower part of the body is treated, and vice versa. This principle of treatment is very different from our common knowledge, so those who are unfamiliar with acupuncture treatments often expect to be treated where it hurts and question the doctor when the needle is put somewhere else.
The cause of pain isn’t always where it hurts
Why does Oriental Medicine put needles in places it doesn’t hurt? First, the most common reason is that the medical cause behind the pain doesn’t always correlate with where it hurts. A good example of this case is disc herniation. Normally, patients who suffer from a disc herniation often feel pain near the lower back, far off from the actual herniated disc. A herniated disc in the neck causes pain near the arm or finger joints, and a herniated back disc causes pain near the thigh or lower leg. Therefore, the targeted treatment should not be the arm or leg, where the pain is felt, but near the neck and lower back where the direct cause of the pain lies. In a similar principle, if a patient comes in for a severe headache and the doctor diagnoses the pain to be caused by the liver pushing up overheated energy towards the head, the patient will be treated on the legs where the liver energy/chi-pathway flows, rather than on the head.
Treating away from the pain heals faster
The second reason behind the principle is that treating away from the area in pain is more effective. For example, it’s more effective to ask one’s superior or boss to speak to a person of misconduct rather than speaking directly to them. Our systematic body works in a similar way. For instance, when patients suffering from chronic, long term pain are given acupuncture treatments on the direct area of pain, the needle might not be strong enough to stimulate the pain, and when the energy circulation is stagnant near the affected area, treating it directly doesn’t treat it as effectively. Hence, it’s more efficient and effective to treat areas where similar functions are performed instead of the direct area in pain.
Some acupuncture treatments focus on quick recovery and healing rather than relieving pain
The previous two explanations focus on treatments based on the cause and condition of the pain. There is another acupuncture method specific to Korea called the ‘Sa-am’ method. ‘Sa-am’ method is famously practiced by Jun Heo and Jema Lee, two of The Three Renowned Korean Medicine Doctors, who apply the fundamentals of the Yin and Yang and the Five Elements of Oriental Medicine. This method also places acupuncture needles away from where it hurts.
While the general principle of acupuncture treatment directs the acupuncturist to fix the cause of symptoms and pains directly, the ‘Sa-am’ method focuses on inducing the body itself to fix the root of the problem. In a figurative example, if someone is struggling to reach the top of the mountain while hiking, ‘Sa-am’ method would figure out why the climber is struggling so that they can climb to the top on their own, rather than moving the climber to the top of the mountain for them. In a realistic situation, doctors who practice the ‘Sa-am’ method do not treat the pain directly, but help the patients’ body to recover on its own: this works as a genuine treatment and operation on the direct area of pain can be avoided. I, also as an acupuncturist who practices the Sa-am method, don’t treat the pain directly, which new patients tend to get confused about.
If the acupuncturist treats the “wrong”, unexpected place with an unexpected treatment…
Like so, it’s very common for every acupuncturist to use different principles and methods in treating symptoms. So, do not worry if your doctor places needles far from where it hurts. Some people often request the doctor to treat with a specific method on a specific area of their preference, but this is a dangerous act that could lead to unknown results. Even though the doctor puts needles in some odd place, it’s best to acknowledge the different methods of treatment in acupuncture and simply ask questions to try to understand and respect the doctor’s specific treatment. Moreover, if the patient cannot understand or respect the doctor of his specific method of acupuncture that he practices, it would be best to find another doctor that practices acupuncture by your preference of treatment, rather than requesting the doctor to treat differently.