Acupuncture’s Quiet Controversy – TCM vs Meridian Therapy 5/5 (45)

In my last blog I presented you with three questions:

  • WHAT is Meridian Therapy acupuncture?
  • HOW is it different from TCM acupuncture?
  • WHY wasn’t this taught in Acupuncture School?

If you missed it, click here to go back and catch up.

Okay, let’s pick up where I left off. TCM acupuncture is a recent construct.

In the first decade of the People’s Republic of China (1950s), TCM universities and teaching hospitals were designed and created to be the equal of Western medicine schools and hospitals.

The herbalists were firmly in control, and promoted a style of acupuncture that corresponded with the TCM herbal approach. Their objective was to establish a unified curriculum.

Other acupuncture styles, including Nan Jing Meridian Therapy, disappeared, but were able to survive in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Problems with TCM Acupuncture.

Following my return from China, I realized that TCM acupuncture posed several difficulties.

First, it was very painful for the patient. Needling was deep, with rotations that would grab fibers and cause pain with twisting. Appreciated as de qi (“the arrival of qi”), it works by injuring local tissue enough to attract healing qi.

Second, TCM acupuncture is effective in China in no small part because patients come to the clinic three times a week. North American patients can hardly afford to come this often, and once weekly is not as effective.

Thirdly, for internal disorders, it is rare that patients arrive with one complaint (eg, “epigastric pain”) that an all-inclusive single zang-fu differentiation would address. Instead, the patient comes in with epigastric pain, plus . . . insomnia, constipation, neck pain, headache, menstrual irregularity, etc, etc.

North American patients come in with multiple complaints, often involving fatigue and various pains spread around the body.

Do we chase multiple complaints in an isolated fashion, or do we look for a unified approach that deals with a myriad of symptoms?

Turning to Japanese-style Meridian Therapy.

Chinese and Japanese needlesRealizing that TCM acupuncture was too painful and too simplistic for the typical patient, I decided to return to my roots in Meridian Therapy.

I began by studying with Dr. Miki Shima, a Japanese practitioner form northern California, who exposed me to the efficacy and subtlety of Japanese needling. This technique employs superficial insertion with very thin needles, insuring patient comfort.

Dr. Shima explained that de qi in Chinese acupuncture means that the patient feels and reports localized pain and distension, due to strong twisting and thrusting. He went on to say that in Japanese acupuncture, the sensation of de qi belongs to the practitioner, who feels the arrival of qi in his or her fingers and hand. The patient should not feel any discomfort.

Patients new to my clinic always remark that my acupuncture is painless, almost invisible, and that they all had negative experiences with Chinese style.

But is it effective? In Japan, patients, who pay for acupuncture out of pocket, can come in no more than once a week. The Japanese have discovered that in using Meridian Therapy as the root, and combining with an effective branch therapy, treatments performed once weekly were as effective as the three times weekly in the Chinese clinics.

What is Meridian Balancing? Why Is It So Effective?

Qigong3Meridian Therapy is a two-pronged approach, treating both root and branch. The root is the meridian balance, and the branch is the focused treatment for the main complaint.

For the branch, we can choose from many disciplines: TCM point combinations, Japanese symptomatic treatment, ear acupuncture, Master Tung points, Korean hand acupuncture, etc.

Why is root treatment so important?

Basically, if the body is in balance, which is to say energetic equilibrium with good movement of qi and blood, it can maintain health or promote self-healing.

The starting point is appreciating the importance of the “energy cycle”: knowing that energy circulates through the twelve primary channels in a specific sequence.

If this energy circulates in an unobstructed way, in a continuous sequence without interruptions, without some channels becoming excess while others become deficient, then the body stays healthy. When the network is in balance, the qi is allowed to distribute equitably, radiating out from the channels to energize tissue along its path, and allowing sufficient qi to reach the organs.

I saw patients get better in half as many treatments!

Conversely, all health problems, whether due to trauma or organ dysfunction, will manifest as imbalances in the meridian sequence. Some channels will be excess, while others will be deficient. A person has a set amount of qi, and imbalances that are excess are matched by imbalances that are deficient.

If we can restore the channels to relative equality, the body will hold the correction, allowing a more lasting effect. In this way, the body can heal itself quickly.

When we add in branch treatment for the main complaint, we are now healing in two different ways, allowing an even stronger healing response.

Diagnosis: Pulse or Computerized?

When I returned to Meridian Therapy, after an interlude with TCM, I saw that patients got better in half as many treatments.

This was not due to discarding TCM; it was due to adding in Meridian Therapy.

That is to say, I used Meridian Therapy as our root treatment, and added in TCM, or other modalities, as the branch treatment.

Currently, for example, I am using Ear Acupuncture as the branch treatment, which complements Meridian Therapy well.

My article to this point has discussed why I prefer Meridian Therapy to TCM acupuncture.

In my final article, I will review the best method of diagnosis and discuss how to accurately identify excesses and deficiencies on the channels.

You can receive my complete Special Report and read ahead. Click Here.

Until next time.



Dr. Jake Paul Fratkin, OMD, L.Ac.
Special Guest Author





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Dr. Jake P. Fratkin, DOM, L.Ac.

Trained in Korean and Japanese acupuncture since 1975, and Chinese herbal medicine since 1982, and has studied and taught qi gong and Yang family Taijiquan since 1974. He is the author of Chinese Herbal Patent Medicines, The Clinical Desk Reference and the editor-organizer of Wu and Fischer’s Practical Therapeutics of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He is currently completing TCM Case Studies in Autoimmune Disease with Dr. Zeng Sheng-ping for People’s Medical Publishing House, Beijing. He is the recipient of Acupuncturist of the Year, 1999, by the AAAOM and Teacher of the Year, 2006, American Association of Teachers of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AATAOM). Dr. Fratkin lives and practices in Boulder, Colorado.

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