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What is blood letting? (And no, we don’t use leeches anymore)

drop of blood on finger tip

The three skills of an acupuncturist spoken about in the ancient Chinese Medicine texts are: acupuncture, moxibustion, and blood-letting.

Acupuncture you have probably heard about, moxibustion is a heat therapy (it's so much more than that, but it is beyond the scope of this article to expand further), and blood-letting is a technique of drawing a little (and sometimes a lot) of blood out of a patient’s body.

When we have an ache or a pain in the body, or we feel that there is an imbalance, we usually think we need to add something to the body to make it feel better. We might we add pressure through massage, or through a heat pack, or we ingest supplements, minerals or medications.

We don’t often think that we need to let pressure out of the body to make it feel better.

This is where blood-letting can be a very effective method of reducing acute and chronic pain.

All blood vessels in the body run into the same river. They are all connected.

So, if there is a big build-up of pressure (think of a bulging varicose vein), in the blood network, relieving pressure in one part of the blood network can reduce pressure in another part of the blood network.

In Chinese Medicine diagnosis we look for patterns.

We don’t use the same medical diagnoses as western medicine (although we understand what a patient means when they tell us they have high blood pressure or endometriosis). Which means we might have 5 different people tell us they have the same western medical diagnosis, but they will each have a different pattern requiring a different Chinese Medicine approach to treatment.

One such pattern is called “blood stagnation”.

It is a secondary pattern that results from an issue further up the line where blood is not flowing well. This can be a result from an excess or a deficiency situation (which is a bit of Chinese Medicine speak).

If a patient has been correctly diagnosed as having blood stagnation as the culprit causing their pain, correct use of blood-letting should reduce their pain, instantly!

Sometimes it really feels like magic!

I remember once having a patient arrive for treatment with an acute 8/10 migraine (she would suffer migraines regularly) and she was in so much pain she could barely talk. I had her lay down on the treatment table and proceed to let a few drops of blood out of each ear apex, and after I had finished, she told me the migraine had dropped to a 1/10 headache.

She was amazed!

Now this didn’t “cure” her of her migraines, but it most certainly relieved this particular migraine on this particular day and it confirmed my diagnosis of blood stagnation. So, with that in mind I could continue with very confident acupuncture point selection and Chinese herbal therapy for her, as we continued to work towards changing the internal environment of her body.

Blood-letting can be found in many ancient medicinal systems of healing, as a method to clear toxicity and infection out of a person’s body.

It has been used in Ancient India’s Ayurvedic medicine, the middle east, east Asia, and

even in western medicine before the discovery of penicillin and other pharmaceutical and surgical interventions.

We use a small lancet (the kind a diabetic would use to prick their finger to check their blood sugar levels), and make a few pricks into particular areas of the body and squeeze a few drops of blood out.

Or, if we need to let more blood out, we do the same method, and add a glass fire cup over the site of the blood pricks, in order to suction out a higher volume of blood.

As you can imagine, a person practicing this needs to have a very organised space with good systems to prevent blood contamination of themselves and their clinic room.

I was told recently by some of my lovely clients that work in the horse racing industry, that it is common place for the racing horses to have a significant amount of their blood let out of them in the weeks leading up to their race. They didn’t know exactly why this is done, but my guess is that it forces the horse’s body to create new fresh red blood cells that are more efficient at circulating oxygen around the horses’ body for the race.

For me personally, learning when and how to use the techniques of blood-letting in clinic has been phenomenal.

When it is the right method to use with a patient, the instantaneous results are amazing. And it is so simple too.

The patient is always shocked at how much better they feel (especially if they have been on a long merry-go-round of seeking help for a long time with their condition).

If you are an acupuncturist reading this, who does not currently do any blood-letting in their treatments, I highly recommend you look into adding blood-letting into your repertoire.

And if you are someone still on the merry-go-round of trying to find someone with the skills to help relieve your pain, you may want to ask your Acupuncturist if they practice blood-letting. Of course, it will be up to them to diagnose you correctly and choose the best course of action for your treatment.

Quite simply, blood-letting is the best!

Love Karina x


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