The Channel Systems of Acupuncture

One important aspect which distinguishes Classical Acupuncture from other acupuncture systems practiced today, is the theoretical and clinical understanding and utilization of what are known as the complement channels (also known as the secondary vessels). In Chinese Medicine, the terms meridian, channel, and vessel are used interchangeably to represent a pathway in the body that is a conduit for energy flow.

The 12 primary channels, which make up an essential component of the complete acupuncture system as it was practiced classically, is actually only a small part of the entire channel system. The Classical texts described 68 channels in all, consisting of the 12 primary channels and 56 complement channels. It is the theoretical and clinical understanding of all these channels which allows a Classically trained acupuncturist to be able to treat virtually all conditions from the most superficial and mild to the terminal, as well as being able to support healthy individuals in their wellness, longevity, and self-cultivation.

The complete channel system occurs in the following groups, and treat individuals with the following types of disorders (generally speaking):

Type of Channel Indication / CONDITIONS
6 Cutaneous Regions Burn, skin irritations, surface pain.
12 Sinew Channels Acute and semi-acute musculoskeletal conditions, pulled muscles, sprains, burns, skin conditions.
12 Primary Channels A wide array of common disorders.
16 Luo Channels Emotional, psychological, psychiatric and some musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular conditions, blood and heart disease, blood cancers.
12 Divergent Channels Chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, frozen shoulder syndrome, gynecological conditions including endometriosis, infertility, fibroids and cysts, gastrointestinal issues such as reflux, Chrohn’s, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), respiratory conditions including asthma, allergies, sensory organ and skin diseases including eczema, insomnia, back pain, hypertension, chronic headaches, tooth decay, cystitis, anxiety, fibromyalgia, cancer, etc.
8 Extraordinary Channels or Curious Channels Constitutional restructuring, childhood illness and injuries, illness that originated in childhood, psychological issues, food intolerances and other allergies which originated in childhood, moderation of birth defects and psychological disorders originating from birth or birth trauma, infertility, geriatric disease, cancer.
2 Bisecting Channels Urogenital and reproductive health.

The chief role of the complement channels is to protect the internal organs from disease, as diseases that effect the internal organs are more likely to be life threatening. Through the complement channels, the body is given the opportunity to manifest a less serious and slower progressing disease, in place of an acute and potentially life threatening disease. These comparatively less serious diseases show up in the form of what we know today as chronic degenerative diseases (ex. Arthritis).

Complement Channel theory describes specific ways in which the body moves a disorder away from an organ to create a less serious disease. The intention therefore of an acupuncturist trained in these channels is to entice the cause of the disease of an organ to a location from which it can be eradicated, or to support the body in preventing the movement of disease into an organ system. Through these and other mechanisms, the possibility arises to:

  • Arrest and reverse the course of chronic degenerative disease.
  • Arrest and reverse the course of auto-immune disease.
  • Strengthen and/or modulate the immune system.
  • Build strength and integrity of the structure.
  • Relieve pain.
  • Promote resilience to physical, mental, and emotional stress.
  • Maintain physical, mental, and emotional health in the absence of illness.

The needling techniques and intention on the part of the practitioner are essential to producing the therapeutic changes in energy flow in the channels, and the treatments can be time consuming. Close observation of changes in the patient during the treatment is necessary to facilitate the most beneficial results. These treatments can often elicit profound healing even in stubborn cases.