I Don't Like the Terms "Channels" or "Meridians"
What are the "channels/meridians"?
If I wasn't an acupuncturist, I would roll my eyes at the metaphysical terms "channels" and "meridians". To be honest, on the occasion that I do use these words in clinic I cringe a little on the inside.
So how can I be an acupuncturist if I don't believe in the channels?
Well, it's not that I don't believe in them, it's just that I think channels and meridians is a poor way to describe them. Thanks to Western Medicines no nonsense approach, the hunt has been on to find out what the channels really are, if anything at all.
Several concepts exist; nerve pathways, blood vessels paths, muscle chains, lymph flow and even the excitingly named Bonghan corpuslces.
But the most agreed upon theory is that the acupuncture channels are fascial chains.
Fascia is the white cling film like structure that wraps around and contains muscles and organs, it is the sinews you see when cutting meat.
Not only does fascia wrap the muscles, it also connects the muscles to bones, via tendons and ligaments - it is a connective tissue. Interestingly fascia connects very specific areas to one another and it can be mapped out like a web through the body.
Now, the channels are also mapped onto the body and follow specific body landmarks. And they happen to follow the same places as fascia. See below:
Photo credit: http://www.fehresianenergetics.com/2017/06/28/explanation-acupuncture-theories/
As you can see, the fascial chain of the back is very similar to the Bladder or Foot Taiyang channel, and the chain of the anterior legs and abdomen perfectly mirror the Stomach/Foot Yangming channel.
This is no coincidence - all of the fascial chains match the acupuncture channels.
So what is so special about fascia?
Fascia is made of collagen crystals. When kinetic energy (movement) is applied to it, it creates its own electrical conductivity. When you move, the fascia moves, stretches and folds. This 'piezoelectricity' as it is known may have similar properties to Qi
Fascia creates space in the body - spaces between structures so they can glide smoothly against each other.
A single fascial chain can span the length of the body, form head to toe.
When fascia/channels, get bound up and tangled, pain arises and structures can't move as freely as the should. The length of the fascial chains may also explain why needling a point, for example, in the ankle can have such an impact on lower back pain.
Interestingly, lower back pain is one of the most commonly treated conditions by acupuncturists, and the lower back is home to one of the most dense and largest area of fascia in the body. Check out all the white fascia below:
When I am treating patients, I do think in terms of 'channels', but to me they are not some mysterious, made up invisible energy feilds in the body. They are fascia and the spaces created by fascia.
They are the same spaces surgeons use to perform key hole surgery. If they didn't use the spaces between organs and muscles they would have a lot more stitching to do and mess to clean up in the body!
For more reading on the fascinating link between fascia and channels, check out the links below.
Bai, Y et al. (2011). Review of Evidence Suggesting That the Fascia Network Could Be the Anatomical Basis for Acupoints and Meridians in the Human Body. Journal of Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/260510/
Fehres, C. (2017) An Explanation of Acupuncture Theories Using the Fascia Network and Nervous System. Fehresian Energetics. http://www.fehresianenergetics.com/2017/06/28/explanation-acupuncture-theories/
Keown, D. (2014) The Spark in the Machine. Singing Dragon. UK