Chinese medicine is a little different than Western medicine, In the Western model, your symptoms are frequently treated without much knowledge of the underlying cause. Can’t sleep? Take a sleeping pill. Heartburn? There are all kinds of antacids and prescription drugs that can douse that fire. In contrast, a practitioner of Chinese medicine can’t begin to treat you until they understand the underlying cause of your symptoms.
As a result, when you seek help from an acupuncturist, their first order of business is to figure out what’s causing your symptoms. In Chinese medicine, the cause of any illness is some kind of imbalance , and one consideration in determining what’s out of whack is whether your symptoms are coming from too much of something or not enough of something else.
Too much of something is called an excess pattern, and can come from your having too much of a pathogen, such as water in the form of edema, phlegm in your sinuses or lungs, or heat in the form of hot flashes. An excess can also be caused by energy not moving very well, because is causes a blockage in your body. An example of a blockage is a Type A guy who is stressed to the max. Any little incident causes the veins in his forehead to throb, his face to turn red, and he looks ready to blow at any minute. This person is like a human pressure cooker, and would definitely be diagnosed as having an excess pattern.
A depleted person (with not enough) is an entirely different story. They are down a quart of the good stuff, such as energy, nutrients, Yin, Yang, or whatever. They may be pale, tired, cold, have funky digestion, be short of breath, and feel wiped out in general.
Treating someone who is depleted takes a different strategy than treating someone with an excess pattern. The excess person tends to be a little easier to treat. In many cases if you can open the valve on their personal pressure cooker through acupuncture, you can get their energy moving, and they will feel a lot better and calmer. People with excess conditions that involve water or phlegm can be a little more difficult to treat, but in general respond well to acupuncture.
Depleted patients take a little more time and effort to treat. Acupuncture can be effective in a couple of ways. First, it supports their digestion, which is the process of turning the food they eat into energy, blood, and nutrients. It can also help by improving how their body uses energy, which helps with fatigue. However, in many cases acupuncture isn’t enough. Because people who are depleted need some building up, they may also need the help of an herbal formula, food therapy, and some lifestyle tweaks. Lifestyle changes that may be in order include a more nutritious diet, better sleep, less work, dealing with stress, and in some cases, dialing back an exercise regimen.
It’s important for your practitioner to understand whether your cup is too full or not full enough. The good news is that once the cause of your symptoms is understood in terms of Chinese medicine, they have a number of tools available to put you back on the road to health.