Monday, September 11, 2006

Terminology

Sciatica, stenosis, neuropathy, gastritis, neuroforaminal narrowing. OK. I know what these mean, as will all other acupuncturists because these are the types of terms used to describe problems to the patient by their physicians. Currently acupuncturists work within a greater system ruled by the western medical doctor. So we’re required to have and understanding of allopathic medicine in order understand what’s going on around us. The same doesn’t hold true for physicians. Mention qi stagnation, spleen qi deficiency or phlegm dampness, and you’ll get blank stares and “so, you’re a plumber?”

Terminology is important to a degree. It’s the language we use in order to have common understanding. But when you see an acupuncturist, this terminology becomes less important because Chinese medical diagnosis is based on a different set of criteria than in Western medicine.

I find that a lot of my patients get hung up on terminology. When I ask a patient to explain their problem, the response is often a single word or phrase, “I have stenosis,” as if that is all the information I need to go on to formulate a complete and individualized treatment plan. What else needs to be said?

Chinese medicine has an entirely different approach in dealing with pathology. We deal with entirely different concepts. For instance, there is the concept of the energetic component of the human body, which is generally not recognized in allopathic medicine. Consequently the language is different, too. “Qi” is the Chinese word that is often bandied about and its translation into English is often energy. But it is a difficult word to translate and explain. The literal translation of “qi” includes air and steam, but not electric like with nerve impulses. What is the relationship to qi to stenosis or neuropathy? I don’t know. We really are comparing apples to oranges here.

So western medical terminology, while I understand what is being said, has little usefulness to me in making an assessment of the patient. Seeing your acupuncturist isn’t like going to the chiropractor or physical therapist. These are both western medical traditions here. They look at your X-rays, use Latin words and tell you your IT band is not positioned properly. We really are using a different language here. Sure, in the end the results may be the same but how we get there is different. It’s like ordering lunch in France, you’re still going to eat, but yelling louder in English isn’t going to make the waiter understand you any better.

Don’t get caught up in the terminology. Whether you have bursitis, tendonitis or arthritis, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference when it’s your hip or back or neck that hurts. And that’s what we’re trying to treat. Just try to understand that your acupuncturist is working in your best interest and to try and tie them down to an idea or diagnosis that you’ve brought in with you will only hinder your own progress.

And as in everything else, educate yourself, communicate clearly and ask questions.

Remember 9/11

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