Mianyang Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Sichuan, China: May 2016
For the last two days we experienced a different style of acupuncture on the 4th floor of the inpatient department at Mianyang Chinese Medicine Hospital. Dr Lai is the resident doctor in the acupuncture clinic there, which held about ten beds. Patients from the inpatient depart would be brought to this room for specific treatments. The general public could also come in to see Dr Lai for acupuncture treatments as well.
The best acupuncturists keep on learning
Dr Lai said he had been working as an acupuncturist for 10 years. He looked young and healthy and inspired by his work. He said that when he first graduated, he just did the standard treatments taught in school. These standard treatments that are practiced in many departments at the hospital, focus on the area of pain. In other words, acupuncture needles are inserted on the area that hurts.
Dr Lai decided that he wanted better results, so embarked on further study. He said he read countless books and took away a jewel of insight from each. Working in a busy Chinese hospital also gave him the opportunity to see many patients in one day, gaining much hands on experience with different techniques.
Dr Lai treats quite differently from many other acupuncturists we have seen at the hospital so far. He reminds us of some of our doctors and teachers at our Institute in Canada. He used palpation to find sensitive points on other parts of the body, rather than just treating the area of pain itself.
I’m the patient today for SI joint pain and sciatica
I noticed Dr Lai treating a couple of women for Sacro-iliac (SI) joint dysfunction, and was fascinated by how he only treated their head, feet and hands with acupuncture.
Given that I have had SI joint dysfunction on again off again with sciatica for many years, I asked him if he would demonstrate his technique on me. Dr Lai did not speak any English so full translation was difficult. From what I can gather, he uses holographic / microsystems style acupuncture (similar to the Master Tung system I use now in my acupuncture practice).
With Master Tung style acupuncture, one part of the body is mapped onto another part of the body. This system then relies on accurate channel selection as well as palpation of sensitive points for effective treatment. He often told us via our translator Amy that much of what he does palpation wise can’t be described, only experienced. He said that it is as if certain points on the body ‘feel different’ yet may or may not be more tender to the patient.
Anyway, back to my treatment. After some testing of my SI joint, he started by palpating for sensitive points on my forehead. He then moved and palpated along two lines on the scalp (mapping the Sacroilliac joint onto my scalp). He also added the points “Tai Yang” on both temples. All the points were extremely sensitive and tight, but I also felt a strong sense of relief with the acupuncture, like he was releasing a long held knot of tension at each point.
Dr Lai also added some sensitive points to my feet to open the gallbladder and bladder channels related to SI joint dysfunction. Points used were on the outside of the foot mostly – BL 63, BL 65, GB 41 and GB39. He also found a very sensitive point on the back of my hand (just distal to the third and fourth metacarpal phalangeal joint). He said that this point had no ‘name’ and he later showed us an image on his computer of the lower spine mirrored on this area of the hand. He palpated for the most sensitive spot in this area. After the first treatment I could feel this point strongly for the next 24 hours, and it felt like it also had an affect on releasing a chronic tightness in my right shoulder.
During each treatment, electrostimulation was added to the points on my head. I was excited to try it because although we rarely use electro stimulation in Canada, nearly every patient (pacemakers aside) receive it here in Mianyang. Dr Lai said this was because there were too many patients and doctors here did not have the time to apply manual stimulation techniques. He did feel that manual stimulation by the doctor would be preferable to the electrostimulation machine however.
Moving the affected area during the acupuncture treatment
While receiving the 30 minute long treatment I was asked to move my SI joint as much as possible. I did this by sliding my legs up and down, maximizing the range of motion in the SI joint. It was not painful but there was discomfort at the end of each range of motion, though this decreased over the course of the treatment.
After the first treatment my SI joint movement felt ‘smoother’, and I felt more smoothness in walking than I had earlier that day. That night I also felt muscle soreness, I think from the exercising and loosening of habitual ways of moving.
Second acupuncture treatment
Today, during the second treatment, the needles in the head and feet were still quite tender. Dr Lai also added an ‘extraordinary point’ on the arm called “ci qian”. During both treatments I felt some emotional release, especially when I allowed the SI joint to find its fuller range of hip movement. In the second treatment I also focused my mind on the points on my feet and head, experiencing them as two ends of the channels that run through the lower back and Sacroilliac area (bladder and gallbladder meridians). I found that this visualisation helped to move qi and release tension from those meridians more fully.
Acupuncture facilitates awareness as well as healing
All in all, after just two treatments the verdict is still out as to whether my chronic SI joint issues will be completely gone. Usually Dr Lai would see patients like this daily for ten to fifteen treatments All I can say is that I do feel an improvement in mobility and smoothness of function, and that I have an increased sense awareness of that area of my body. Many conditions are rooted in unconscious daily habits – so part of my healing here involves being aware of how I walk and hold my body posture, and how I hold or protect via the pelvis emotionally.
Lastly, I’m really pleased and grateful to Dr Lai to have experienced holographic style acupuncture first hand, and grateful for his reminder that the best acupuncturists keep on learning!