Holistic Health Collective

Perspectives from an MD, how does an acupuncturist tailor a treatment specifically for a patient?

I’ve lived in Grand Rapids, MI for over 7 years and previous to opening up my acupuncture clinic and integrative medicine practice I worked in primary care practicing family medicine in downtown Grand Rapids.  I’ve been fascinated and excited to hear the interest in many of my patients in learning about holistic methods of healing.  I find that conventional medicine can be highly effective in many ways and often life saving.  However, conditions that are long and lingering and not necessarily dramatically stopping a patient from living their lives can effectively make the quality of lives much harder to live.   This is why I’ve found holistic health approaches like functional medicine and acupuncture highly effective at bridging the gap that is often a missing piece in helping a patient achieve the health improvements they are seeking.   Acupuncture is a beautiful traditional medical approach that bases its treatment on the concept of qi, 12 meridians, and acupuncture points.   In this blog and my other blogs, you can read more about this ancient art form and some of the concepts of healing utilized in acupuncture.

How does an acupuncturist tailor a treatment specifically for a patient?  Most often it is based on physical exam, collection of medical history and personal characteristics, examination of the tongue, pulse diagnosis, and palpation of the body (in Japanese acupuncture).  This information along with knowledge of 5 element theory helps create a working treatment plan and thus placement of needles.

Western medicine tends to delineate emotions and physical symptoms as two different categories but in the ancient form of acupuncture these “symptoms” of emotions or physical problems can be considered one and the same.

5 element theory is the basis of many acupuncture approaches.  Each meridian channel and vital organ of the body is associated with a specific element.   The 5 main elements are: fire, earth, metal, water, and wood.   Each element has an associated color, sound, characteristic, organ, meridian, and general predispositions, including yin versus yang.

Individuals can be characterized by each of the 5 elements:

Fire – boisterous, magnetic, extroverted, many ideas, intense

Earth – nurturing, generous, a foodie, community oriented, enjoys the company of others

Metal – organized, structure is important, stoic, acts strongly based on moral values

Water – musically inclined, deep thinker, quiet, introverted, prefers nature to people, predisposed to darker thoughts

Wood – leadership tendency, get things done attitude, competitive, pre-disposed to short tempers, confident

Most individuals are not only one element but a mixture of elements and their strengths in a persons character may change with time or external or internal pressures.

Yin and Yang influences how the elements are presented by the body.

Yin – feminine energy, quiet, holding, mother energy, cold, contraction, reservoir, dark, moon

Yang – masculine energy, moving, dynamic, father energy, hot, expansion, light, sun

The acupuncture meridians and their associated vital organ:

Kidney – yin energy, water element, important for essential energy (Jing) qi which was received at birth, associated with kidney organs, fertility, brain, and bone, part of the lower burner. It is associated with willpower and stamina.

Spleen – yin energy, earth element, important for muscles, fertility, holding of fluids within the vasculature, production of qi energy alongside of stomach, associated with spleen and pancreas.  It can be associated with excessive worry.

Liver – yin energy, wood element, important for tendons, eyes, fertility, detox, energy, and dreams, associated with liver organ

Heart – yin energy, fire element, important for shen (spirit), cardiovascular health, mood/emotions, part of the upper burner, associated with heart organ.  This element can also be associated with overthinking or the colloquial term of “heartache.”

Pericardium – yin energy, fire element, important also for shen, mood, cardiovascular health, nausea points, associated with pericardium, protector of the heart

Lung – yin energy, metal element, important for skin, respiratory, mortal spirit, part of the upper burner, associated with lung organ and skin organ.  It can be associated with the sense of loss or loneliness.

Small Intestine – yang energy, fire element, important for absorption and processing of nutrients, separates the pure from the impure, associated with the small intestine

Triple Warmer (Triple Heater, or San Jiao) – yang energy, fire element, regulator of the three burners of the body, important for the autonomic function of the body, and associated with processing and movement of qi from three sections of body considered the lower, middle, and upper burners of the body.   Does not have a distinct organ association.

Large Intestine – yang energy, metal element, important for digestion and absorption of fluids, has influence on the immune system, dental and facial areas of the body, it can also influence skin.  Organ association large intestine.

Bladder – yang energy, water element, important for removal of impure fluids, part of the lower burner, but also has great influence on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.  Bladder meridian encompasses many of the shu points of the body that influence each of the vital organs from treatment on a patients back.  Organ association bladder.

Gallbladder – yang energy, wood element, important for storing and emptying bile and smooth flow of qi, supports decision making and wise judgment, associated with lateral aspect of the body.  Organ association gallbladder.

Stomach – yang energy, earth element, important for transforming and digesting, it is part of the middle burner, associated with the production all qi energy created after birth.  Organ association stomach.

About the Author:

Zhiling Trowbridge MD has been providing acupuncture to the community of Grand Rapids, MI since 2016.  She received her medical degree at Wayne State University.  She is board certified in family medicine.  She studied and taught acupuncture through the Harvard Structural Acupuncture Program.  She is also certified in acupuncture from the Helms Medical Institute.  


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Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional medical advice or treatment because of something you have read on this post.