WHAT IS AN ACUPUNCTURE POINT? New Studies and an Old Theory.

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23-Jan-2014 01:18 PM

Matthew Bauer

Posts: 211


News of a recent study using advanced CT scan technology caught my eye as it seems to support a theory I have had for many years now. The study, as reported by HealthCMi, was titled “ X-ray phase contrast CT imaging of the acupoints based on synchrontron radiation” and was published in 2013 in the  Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena. In particular, one specific word in this report hit me:  “bifurcation”.  The report discusses how researchers used this new imaging technology that allows much better 3-D views of soft tissue and studied the points St36 and St 37. They found that those areas showed unique structures of a relatively higher degree of larger blood vessels (several dozen micrometers) plus beds of many smaller (15-50 micrometer) vessels. These smaller vessels were formed as “bifurcations” surrounding the thicker blood vessels.   

My fixation with the word bifurcation stems from my own use of that word as a way of describing what I believe is the explanation for the structural make-up of many acupoints. While several of the articles I have written in the past contain elements of my theory, I don’t think I ever wrote anything describing the details so here goes:  

Acupoints are found within the muscle/tendon fibers that connect to bones. Just how those fibers connect to bones is where bifurcations come in. The muscle/tendon fibers split-off the main fibers forming finer structures that split off to still finer structures that are then small enough to connect to the tiny bumps in the bone. Think of it like the threads of a spider web as they bifurcate from the larger threads eventually connecting to bumps on a tree branch. These bifurcations take place because they lend greater structural stability to the larger threads. If you had just one big thread trying to connect a muscle to a bone this would not be structurally sound as one break would mean the entire connection would be lost. With many finer fibers forming many small connections at different angles you get a better ability to stay connected through a range of movements and enough overlap that a connection or two can be lost without a great loss in structural integrity. Nature’s engineering is truly amazing.  

While the greater flexibility and structural integrity these many bifurcations allow is a good thing, it also creates the potential for problem spots.  The problem spots I speak of are at the junctions of the fibers where they bifurcate – the crotch, so to speak, of where the divided fibers meet.  The reason these junctions have a greater tendency to develop problems is because those fibers have to contend with stresses merging from different angles. Just as auto traffic intersections or merging lanes tend to be where greater traffic pile-ups or accidents happen, the bifurcation of these stress absorbing fibers are where problems occur.  It is often said that acupoints are spots where qi has a greater tendency to get stuck. But, why is it that qi tends to get stuck at these spots? I believe it is because these spots are where qi flows intersect/merge. I also suspect the unique vasculature found in this study had those characteristics because that is the vasculature needed to service those bifurcating muscle/tendon fibers. 

In earlier posts/articles I mentioned the merits of finding acupoints by feel. Chinese medicine has a long tradition of emphasizing how important it can be to develop a super-fine sense of feel to be able to distinguish the subtleties of pulse diagnosis. I was never able to reach a high level with pulse diagnosis but I was able to develop a good level of sensitivity for feeling distress in muscle/tendon fibers. My theory that most acupuncture points are at areas where muscle/tendon fibers bifurcate and undergo greater stress factors was the result of many years of refining my sense of touch to be able to trace those fibers. This being the case, I believe that if someone with knowledge of structural engineering were to measure what areas within the strands of muscle/tendon fibers came under the highest levels of structural stress, they would find this happening at bifurcation points and also find a strong correlation there with acupoints.    

I hope the above makes some sense and welcome feedback. Below is the link to the story on HealthCMi’s website. It also contains information about another study that showed increased partial oxygen pressure at wrist acupoints and has striking images of this. I would again propose that the higher levels of oxygen is also due to the characteristics of bifurcation muscle/tendon fibers but in any case, it is great to finally see some more subtle research on the properties on acupoints. Any structural engineers out there interested in investigating my theory?   Matthew Bauer



Matthew Bauer