I have been teaching anatomy and acupuncture point location for years. It has made me think a great deal about how acupuncture is related to the physical structure of the body. The deeper you dive into anatomy, the more relationships you see between acupuncture and the physical structure of the body.
A good place to begin is with fascia. Fascia is a type of connective tissue primarily made up of collagen. It spreads through the body providing form and stabilization for muscles and organs. This complex structure holds the body together, providing unity, and interconnectedness.
Fascia located in one area – can affect tissue located in another more distant area. This "one area affects another area" quality is similar to what is seen in many types of bodywork, including acupuncture.
There is growing research providing evidence that connective tissue fascia is important to health. I want to tackle each aspect research into fascia, piece by piece, in this blog.
A great place to start is with the work of Thomas Myers. Mr. Myers has a lifetime of studying the structure of the body and the fascial network. He is the author and creator of Anatomy Trains, a comprehensive study of fascia.
Part of the work Mr. Myers has done with Anatomy Trains is extensive dissections of the body — not muscle by muscle — but along lines of tension within the fascia.
Myers explains his work as follows:
“…all our muscles have been analyzed as if they were separate units within the body. This idea...is so pervasive, that it is hard to think in any other way. But in fact all the muscle tissue is embedded within the single, ubiquitous fascial webbing of the extracellular matrix (ECM).”
“The Anatomy Trains concept maps out these [connections] within the body — following the grain of muscle and fascia to see what links with what."
His dissection results are amazing, beautiful, and important for acupuncturists.
When the body is dissected along "lines of tension and pull" we can see patterns incredibly similar to acupuncture channels. In this published article we can clearly see similarities to the Urinary Bladder Channel, the Stomach Channel and the Gallbladder Channel.
The more refined images of fascial dissections show the familiar branching we are accustomed to within acupuncture. The primary acupuncture channels, which branch into smaller more delicate channels, share a similar structure to what is seen with fascia.
Note: the image above is based on this photo from Anatomytrains.com
What Does It Mean?
To see and realize the channels have a physical and tangible underpinning is powerful — powerful for working acupuncturists, students of acupuncture, and clients alike.
I have found when talking to potential clients who are skeptical of acupuncture, explaining the fascial connections in the body helps them see how acupuncture can be a helpful treatment option. Likewise, when discussing my clinical work with a medical doctor, nurse or physical therapist, this fascia discussion gives me solid footing.
Do these findings about fascia explain everything about acupuncture? Not at all. Qi. Blood. Shen. Yin. Yang. All of these remain powerful and independent concepts separate from fascia and the patterns they produce.
Traditional Chinese herbal medicine has lost nothing acknowledging the existence of chemical compounds. In the same manner, nothing is lost by embracing the similarities between fascial connections and the channels of acupuncture. The fascial patterns outlined by Mr. Myers are wonderful, powerful tools which can be used by acupuncturists and acupuncture students alike.