japanese

Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Classical and Clinical Comparison

Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Classical and Clinical Comparison

A Note From Shawna

This paper was originally titled, "Classic Texts: The Foundation of Japanese Meridian Therapy Assessed Clinically in Comparison to Traditional Chinese Medicine." I wrote it during the final years of my masters program in acupuncture at AIMC Berkeley for a course on classical texts.

This paper presumes knowledge of the medicine so is most appropriate for other practitioners, but as patients often ask about Japanese vs Chinese medicine, a general audience might find it interesting to skim. I'm happy to discuss any questions you may have after reading.

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How can Japanese Meridian Therapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine have come from the same classic texts and yet come to such different conclusions for diagnosis and treatment? This is the question I chose to consider by delving into Chapters Sixty-Nine and Seventy-Five of the Nan Jing, considered the foundation of Japanese Meridian Therapy.

Meridian Therapy was founded in the 1930s out of a desire to “reexamine the classics and to clinically test the knowledge gained therein in order to extract the truth” (Kuwahara, xvii). The principle methods of Japanese Meridian Therapy (JMT or MT) are to palpate and assess the meridians, using the pulse for both diagnosis and continual assessment of the progress of treatment, and to use the meridians in this way to understand the balance of deficiency and excess caused by pathogens, the seven emotions, and the fundamental interaction of the meridians and organs to themselves and each other (the Five Phases). This is fairly different from Eight Principle and Zang Fu Diagnosis as interpreted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In the TCM approach, we utilize the four diagnostic methods (asking, looking, listening, and palpating), base our diagnosis on the collection of symptoms and signs based on the chief complaint, and identify a specific pattern based on the organs, yin/yang, and body elements (like blood, body fluids, and qi) in disharmony, all of which determines the course of treatment. Depending on the TCM practitioner, palpation may be used to refine the choice of points (this is common at least in the case of choosing local ashi points) or at the extreme they may only use the trusted points in texts from Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion (CAM). I admit this is a gross simplification of the vast differences within the practices of TCM and JMT respectively, but seeing from the extremes can help to highlight the differences between the disciplines.

Put a Seed on It: Earseeds and Needle-Free Acupuncture

Many people think acupuncture and immediately think needles, but there are a wide variety of tools at our disposal, many of which stem from Eastern medicine’s herbal traditions. Earseeds, for example, are a popular form of herbal treatment which gently press on acupuncture points versus needle insertion.

Vaccaria seeds (Latin name: Semen Vaccariae; Chinese name: wang bu liu xing) can be prescribed for internal use to reduce breast and testicular swelling and move blood to promote lactation or menstruation. They are also handy little round seeds that can gently stimulate acupuncture points on the ear or body to provide treatment that lasts several hours to days. This treatment is safe for all patients and, like most acupuncture treatment, has only a low risk of minor side effects.

Vaccaria seeds are commonly referred to as “earseeds” since we often use the microcosm of the ear to treat conditions throughout the body. The seeds, gently pressed against the skin by a very small bandage adhesive, stay particularly well on the ear, but earseeds can be applied to any acupuncture point. Magnets or other metals are sometimes used instead of the seed. This makes them a versatile and minimally visible way of extending treatment beyond a visit to your acupuncturist. I prefer to use the gentlest possible form of effective treatment, a hallmark of Japanese medicine, and to make sure my patients are empowered to treat themselves with the knowledge they glean from our sessions. I love giving out earseeds so symptoms like insomnia, nausea, headaches, jetlag, neck and shoulder pain, and anxiety are continually improving or being prevented between sessions. That way we don’t lose ground, patients have a new appreciation for what their body is capable of doing with little assistance, and they have more freedom to travel.

Free Earseed Treatments Sunday July 16

I will be giving free earseed treatments at the Herbal Medicine (and then some!) Fair on July 16, sharing a booth with my San Francisco officemates Back to Life Physical Therapy. There are many other ways to treat without needle insertion in an acupuncture session as well, including moxibustion, contact needles, and a variety of diagnostic massage techniques including cupping. Come feel how earseeds can treat a wide variety of symptoms and conditions and ask any questions in person!

5th Annual Herbal Medicine (and Then Some!) Fair
Sunday July 16, 2017 10am – 5pm
Temescal Alley (486 49th St in Oakland)

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

This write-up was originally written for Homestead Apothecary's July 2017 newsletter.

Contact Needle Treatment for Cancer Pain

The week before Thanksgiving I attended a lecture and demonstration on using contact needles for cancer treatment related pain by Dr. Keiko Ogawa of Kanazawa, Japan. Dr. Ogawa published a study in 2013 on using contact needles to treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). I was excited to see research on contact needles available in English and to learn this was the first time she was teaching in the US. There is a wealth of research on contact needle therapy in Japanese, but most of it has not been translated for a Western audience.

My silver contact needle tools (similar in size to golf pencils)

I often use a specialized silver contact needle tool in my treatments. Dr. Ogawa performed her study using disposable silver needles more similar to the stainless steel needles we use for insertion needling. Regardless of the tool, the method is to settle the needle on the relevant acupuncture point rather than inserting the needle into the skin. This is a painless form of treatment that has the added benefit of reducing infection risk, a key feature in treating cancer patients who may have weakened immune systems due to their cancer and/or their Western treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, etc).

From ancient times, it has been said that the larger the needle is and the deeper the needle is inserted, the stronger the stimulation will be. If the stimulation is too strong, the patients’ condition becomes worse, especially when their constitution is weak. CNT is known as a method of weak stimulation. In this aspect, CNT is effective and appropriate for treating cancer patients.
— Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy, 2013

CIPN often prevents patients from continuing valuable anti-cancer treatment and can make daily activity difficult or impossible. As the hands and feet are often the most affected, this can mean inability or difficulty walking or doing daily self maintenance and household activity, much less working or caring for others.

Dr. Ogawa explained and demonstrated a number of specific techniques for us that subtly address the causes of pain and weakness for a variety of patient types. I can now use these methods in a manner specific to an individual patient. Treatments consist of 15-20 minutes for the front and 15-20 minutes for the back. Based on patient strength, we may either combine front and back treatments or do only one side per week. There is a set of points and treatment methods we'll use in every treatment and another set I'll choose among based on how you are doing during that particular visit.

I love that this approach highlights the key approach of Japanese acupuncture: to do as little to the body as possible to assist it in bringing itself back to balance. Your body is always trying to regulate itself and my methods are meant to help that process, not to do all the work and tire you out or make you reliant on treatment to feel well.

Though this study has a very small number of patients, it has promising results to be explored with a larger sample size, making it a successful pilot study. Both improved movement ability and a decrease in breakthrough pain (in other words the sudden sharp sensation of pain or shock) can improve quality of life to a strong enough degree that contact needle therapy using these methods is something I am happy to offer to my patients.

Read the full study "Efficacy of Contact Needle Therapy for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy" by Keiko Ogawa et al. in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2013, Article ID 928129

ABOUT SHAWNA

Shawna Seth, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. is a California state licensed and nationally certified acupuncturist focused on promoting women’s health, especially surrounding menstrual health and fertility. She uses the gentlest effective methods possible to guide her patients to balance. Shawna sees patients in her private practice on Sutter Street in San Francisco. Make your appointments online or email contact@shawnaseth.com. To learn more about Japanese medicine and the world of acupuncture, follow her blog A Cuppa Qi.

Needle Free if Need Be: Gentle Japanese Acupuncture Alternatives to Needles

Cupping has had a news moment lately with Michael Phelps and it has been fun to hear from many friends and patients wanting me to see that what they already know is great is being shared more widely. I wanted to take the opportunity to share back that cupping is just one of the many ways that Japanese Medicine can help that has nothing to do with needles!

When I tell people I am an acupuncturist, I often hear some variety of statement about how they've heard good things about acupuncture, but..."I'm scared of needles."

I myself was terrified of needles* when I first started going to acupuncture and there was no way I was going to drink bitter herbs!** Luckily, I was met with a first acupuncture practitioner who was open and wanted to help me based on my comfort level. She didn't mind my many questions about why she wanted me to do something or how that was going to help. Given how successful that was for me (I ended up training as an acupuncturist, after all!) I believe in working just that same way. I will meet you where you are and use the wide variety of tools at my disposal to treat you. And believe it or not, that means we can do entire treatments with absolutely no sharp objects! Perhaps that means we have an eventual goal of using needles (maybe just one?) or maybe you don't even want to put that on the table. Either is absolutely fine.

What can we use instead of inserted needles?