Acupuncture can help reset disordered sensory patterns without even touching the area of discomfort. I’ll mention three examples of this: Phantom Limb Pain, Lymphedema and Trigeminal Neuralgia. While I limit this article to these three examples, there are countless others that could be given.

Phantom Limb Pain.
When someone loses a limb there is often pain or other sensation in the missing limb. This phenomenon is called Phantom Limb Pain. How can you treat something that isn’t there? Acupuncturists can insert small, stainless steel needles in the opposite limb to diminish or eliminate the sensory disturbance that feels as if it is arising from the missing limb.

Lymphedema.
Sometimes lymphatic fluid is obstructed from its normal circulatory route and pools in surrounding tissues, usually the legs and feet. I’ve known women who have lymphedema in their arms following mastectomies who have been advised not to have acupuncture on the affected arm. While I’m not convinced acupuncture would present the same risk of infection that a larger hyperdermic needle would likely cause, I’ve never tried to convince a woman to disregard this commly held belief. What I have done is explained that just as the lymphatic system is a circulatory system, acupuncture is also based on a circulatory system known in technical terms as the meridian system. Therefore, one can interject a signal at a variety of different entry-points, and the flowing (circulatory) nature of the system will see to it that the signal is delivered to areas that are not directly adjacent to the points of entry. In other words, we can treat non-adjacent areas of the body to support circulatory flow in the affected area, without ever inserting needles in the areas swollen with lymphatic fluid.

Trigeminal Neuralgia.
The three branches of the trigeminal nerve ennervate the face. For some people, with trigeminal neuralgia, the nerve is firing all the time and the result is pain in the face, in one or more locations from the eye to the jaw. People with trigeminal neuralgia often have difficulty chewing food, brushing their teeth and speaking. I’ve treated many people with trigeminal neuralgia, often by inserting acupuncture needles around the affected area. But for some people with trigeminal neuralgia, more effective treatments involve some well-placed needles in the ears, feet, legs and hands. I have known people with unremitting, severe pain lasting for six months who have been eating nothing but soup and apple sauce to be completely pain-free after 4 simple acupuncture treatments.

This method of treatment, described here for three separate conditions, is rooted in the classical theoretics of Chinese Medicine, and deeper still in the theoretical paradigm of Taoist philosophy in which all natural phenomena (referred to in the Tao Te Ching as “the 10,000 things”) are rooted in the Tao, the source or way, a kind of energetic mother-matrix, from which we arise in all our perfect imperfections, and to which we return. The Chinese medical paradigm arose from this theoretical base (as well as from roots in Confuncianism and Buddhism), and always viewed medical phenomenon as being rooted in a basic disharmony in the relationship between self and Tao. In this view any manifestation (symptom) of disease is merely the branch; the root is something else entirely–it is an energetic dysfunction in one’s relationship to the natural, perfect mother-matrix–the root of the 10,000 things.

Therefore, treatment options are manifold. Since the root of any phenomena, such as lymphedema, trigeminal neuralgia or phantom limb pain, does not lie in the site of pain itself (but in a deeper disordered relationship with source), there are many treatment strategies that involve placing acupuncture needles in areas that have known relationships to the root, as well as the branch. The meridian system contains a myriad of known correspondences that allow a thoughtful acupuncturist to choose a variety of avenues of approach–including the approach that I’ve described here, in which the site of pain or swelling is left alone, and the message of healing is sent to the disordered area via the subtle energetic circulatory system of meridians.