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In 2008, while preparing to teach a continuing-ed course about acupuncture at SUNY Ulster, I read Yun-tao Ma's Biomedical Acupuncture and Pain Management. It revolutionized my practice of acupuncture. His second book, Biomedical Acupuncture for Sports and Trauma Rehabilitation, came out in 2010. In my opinion, they are the two best books on acupuncture in the literature. They provide a comprehensive view of the science underlying a traditional medical with ancient roots. Dr. Ma makes it clear that the science is still incomplete, that dry needling remains an empirically proven clinical tool, as is the case with its venerable predecessor, meridian acupuncture, and that there is an art to clinical practice that cannot be defined by science alone.

Yun-tao Ma completed his acupuncture training in 1968. He's also a researcher in acupuncture in the context of the biosciences. His knowledge of the work is grounded in clinical experience and a wide-ranging understanding of the theory that needs to underlie a coherent clinical approach.

I had the privilege of studying with Dr. Ma and his wife Mila Ma in 2008, and against most recently in October 2013, when I received a certificate in Integrated Systemic Dry Needling for Sports Injuries and Trauma Rehabilitation.

The beauty of Dr. Ma's approach is that it's grounded in the biomedical model that forms the backbone of healthcare worldwide. It's straightforward, non-esoteric, and easily explained to consumers of medical services. It involves an easy and useful prognostic. Its application in the clinic is clear and direct.

Dr. Ma now refers to his approach as dry needling to distinguish it from meridian-based acupuncture. In this, he is part of a trend. In his teaching, he emphasizes that all acupuncture and dry-needling approaches work; the empirical evidence of our tradition stretches across several thousand years. In the space of a single webpage it's impossible to do justice to the foundations he lays out for a modern acupuncture--or, if you will, dry needling, because he does coherently distinguish between the two--but a series of concepts needs to be fleshed out in a thumbnail account.

First, his perspective is rooted in anatomy and physiology. The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (the network of nerves that enable the central nervous system to communicate with the rest of the body and the outside world) are the key structures in the mechanism of acupuncture. Acupuncture points are not nebulous waystations along mysterious conduits of energy but rather dynamic structures composed of sensitized sensory nerve endings. When you palpate them, they hurt, they make their presence felt.

These tender points become points of entry for us to communicate, via the exterior, with the interior of the body. In fact, a more accurate translation of acupuncture “point”, from the Chinese, is acupuncture “hole”. Even from this modern, physiological perspective, we can describe acupoints as portals into the body, continuing the tradition and extending it in new, more effective directions.

The body maintains its balance of health through a process known as homeostasis. The nervous system monitors the internal environment of the body in relation to the external environment surrounding it to ensure that we maintain a stable temperature, that all tissues have an adequate supply of blood and nutrients, that we drink and eat when we're thirsty or hungry. We breathe deeply when our body or emotions require this. When the homeostatic balance is disturbed, our health declines. 

Acupoints are sensitive to pressure, and create active pain once they grow in size. Their number, size and sensitivity reflect the state of the body's health. The less healthy you are, the greater the number of sensitized points. If your shoulder or knee hurts, you can feel this tenderness yourself when you massage yourself. The number of tender points--acupuncture points, or acupoints--increases in such periods of decline, for reasons that can be explained, and the configuration of these tender point forms the basis for a clinical strategy of acupuncture, or dry needling treatment. The job of the clinician is to locate and needle these tender areas with the intention of bringing tissue back to health.

No matter the clinical perspective, all acupuncture works because all acupuncture involves the insertion of a needle into the skin. This action has predictable effects: muscles relax, symptomatic areas receive additional blood and nutrients as local blood vessels dilate, tissue healing factors create new, healthy tissue. Relief from pain can be experienced as a renewal of energy.

The ancient wisdom still obtains: the individual’s natural capacity to heal is what creates the potential to move in the direction of health. A coherent acupuncture can stimulate and amplify this move toward health. The link between coherent thinking and coherent clinical work lies in the realm of knowledge, art and experience.

If you have questions, please call me at 845-255-2070.

Yun-tao Ma and acupuncture/dry needling

Minimize pain. Maximize performance.

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