The following post is an article I wrote for the November 2013 Edition of the Colne Engaine Parish Magazine:
In my last article I briefly discussed the role of the meridian system in Chinese Medicine. I thought I’d say a little more about this and attempt to demystify a subject that can seem a little unusual. The meridian system is known to be over 2000 years old and consists of 12 major meridians, which form a network of channels covering the entire body. Each meridian is named after the particular organ with which it is thought to be connected. Thus, during diagnosis and treatment acupuncturists and herbalists may refer to imbalances in, for example, the Spleen or Stomach meridians. However, this can be confusing for Westerners as the functions of the meridians are often quite distinct from the conventional physiological role of the organ for which they are named. An imbalance in the ‘Heart’ meridians may, therefore, lead to a variety of signs and symptoms that have no connection with any recognised Western medical heart organ pathology.
Readers may be wondering whether there is actually any basis for this mysterious, unseen system of channels I am describing. Despite some controversy, there are a number of peer-reviewed studies that have found anatomical and physiological features that correlate with the traditional pathways of the meridians. A study published in 2002 found a strong correlation between the meridian pathways and planes of interstitial connective tissue occurring within a muscle or between two muscles†. This connective tissue, or fascia, forms a continuous network enveloping much of the body’s structures. It is this network that may allow signals from an acupuncture needle inserted in the hand to affect the head. A review of studies examining the electrical properties of the meridians also found evidence to suggest that they are distinct areas with low electrical resistance and high capacitance (the ability to store electrical charge)‡.
My own clinical experience has increasingly supported the existence of the meridian network. To illustrate this, over the last few months I have been studying a particular style of acupuncture based on the traditional principle of treating meridians on the opposite side and limb to balance those in the area of pain or dysfunction. For example, to treat pain on the right hand side of the knee, I use acupuncture points on meridians around the left hand side elbow. I freely confess that I was a little sceptical of this notion at first, until I started using it in clinic. Since doing so, I have consistently found that it achieves superior clinical results than using points local to the problem area. In most cases, patients feel an immediate reduction in pain and increased mobility where movement was compromised. To me, this is a fascinating example of the reality of the meridian system and the powerful effects it can have for relieving pain and discomfort in a wide range of conditions.
If any readers would like to know more about anything that I’ve mentioned in this article, please do get in touch.
Rob Veater LicAc BSc(Hons.)
†Langevin, H.M. & Yandow, J.A. (2002) The Relationship of Acupuncture Points and Meridians to Connective Tissue Planes. Anatomical Record, 269: 257–265.
‡Ahn A et al. (2008) Electrical properties of acupuncture points and meridians: a systematic review. Bioelectromagnetics, 29:245-256.