A short, illustrated guide to tsubo


I grew up in Japan, where we have a wonderful health care system and some of the best-trained masseuses in the world. It was so nice to be able to walk to the neighborhood orthopedist any time my back was out of whack or I had a crook in my neck — despite the fact that I pay for my own health insurance here in the US, I hardly ever go to the doctor because it's hard to get appointments, and when I do, I usually end up waiting an hour and paying some ridiculous amount for x-rays and lab tests.

The one good thing I learned living in America is how to rely on myself for routine maintenance rather than depending on the health care system. To make sure my back stays healthy, for example, I go to yoga class at least once a week and a Chinese massage place twice a month. I also have this funny book that my mom once gave me on tsubo, or pressure points.

Tsubo (also referred to as acupuncture points, or meridian points) originate from traditional Chinese medicine; by pressing down on specific parts of the body, the belief goes, you can release bad qi connected to that part and heal basic health problems like muscle pain and constipation. It's not scientifically proven, but tsubo stimulation often feels really good and is, in my opinion, definitely worth a shot when you consider the alternative — paying a shit ton of money to go to a doctor who will see you for two minutes and then tell you you need physical therapy or lots of drugs.

Here are a few you can try at home.

lower back.jpg

For lower back pain, find the pressure point at the end of your pinkie finger bone.


For insomnia, stimulate the center of the bottom of your heels. The book says to heat the area using moxibustion, but if you can't find it at your local drug store you can probably just use your finger or a heated pad. allergies.jpg

Allergy symptoms may be relieved by poking the point between your two eyebrows or the sides of your nostrils with a toothpick.


The point three fingers out and two fingers down from your belly button is the tsubo that helps with constipation.

Images courtesy of Karada no Tsubo by acupuncturist Tomoyoshi Saito


  1. This looks great… what is the book called? I love the illustrations :D. Sadly I wouldn’t be able to read it without your help.

  2. I’d rather wait an hour for actual diagnostic tests instead of wishful thinking, no matter how cutely drawn.

    There’s a nice alternative history to this alternative practice in the Skeptic’s Dictionary:

    While acupuncture was being promoted in the West as an ancient healing art that could cure just about anything, it was being banned in China and Japan. After the introduction of scientific medicine in those countries, efforts were made to stifle ancient medical superstitions and myths. By 1911 in China, acupuncture was no longer a subject for examination by the Chinese Imperial Medical Academy. Mao Zedong promoted Chinese medicine for political and practical reasons, but he did not use it or believe in it himself.

    There are references at the above link if you need to delve in any further.

    And before anyone asks “what’s the harm?”


    1. Skepdic is hardly an objective resource on acupuncture. I am not very familiar with the site itself or the other articles they’ve done, but the page on acupuncture contains some problems. The site is firm in the belief that acupuncture is nothing more than a placebo and even after the results of two neuro-imaging tests that compared real acupuncture versus two forms of sham acupuncture (with real acupuncture showing different results than both forms of sham acupuncture), the site still says “it’s a placebo”. This is horribly ignorant of current studies.

      “To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the need for thought”
      – Henry Puincare

      1. “two neuro-imaging tests that compared real acupuncture versus two forms of sham acupuncture (with real acupuncture showing different results than both forms of sham acupuncture)”

        Ooh, two tests! As opposed to the sea of double-blind tests where “sham” acupuncture shows the exact same results as “real”. Care to post them anyway?

      2. Kymus: what WalterSear said

        Also, Skeptic’s Dictionary isn’t meant to be an up-to-the minute guide, but it is well-resourced. If you want something more recent, check out Harriet Hall’s discussion of the Malaysian and South Korean studies that claimed positive results for acupuncture:


        There is one thing that repeated studies HAVE demonstrated: that if acupuncture has any effects, they are at the fringe of detection. Moreover, no repeatable study has given solid evidence — or, really, any indication — that it could work for the reasons acupuncturist say it does.

      3. studies have shown that acupuncture’s effectiveness to relieve pain is possibly somewhat effective (if probably only in placebo, placebo is an amazingly potent thing, in a WWII Japanese prison camp, one American doctor gave a patient water saying it was morphine before an op and the patient didnt realise).

        However hat has been fairly conclusively shown is that acupuncture pain relief has nothing whatsoever to do with where the needles are placed (as acupuncturists claim) and that the placing of the needle or ceremony around it does not affect the pain relief.

        the brilliant Ben Goldacre’s (science journalist who specialises in the misuse of science in the media/quackery etc) book Bad Science explores this
        as does:
        this article on his website also looks at this a bit.

        also worth looking up on his website is what he writes (and the radio 4 doc he did) on placebo.

    2. @Lester – I think you may want to look into your resources a little more closely. Acupuncture has not been banned in China and Japan. They did attempt to ban it years ago, but then had trouble getting rid of certain diseases using Western medicine alone and decided to allow its use again. For example, they were unable to eradicate the SARS epidemic until they started using Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs and acupuncture. There are certainly people, including doctors, in China and Japan who do not believe in it, but that does not mean it doesn’t work. They are doing more and more research on acupuncture all the time using MRI and are actually finding that the claims made for those acupuncture points do in fact stimulate the areas of the brain that control those things. I am sorry that you can only believe what exists in a skeptic’s dictionary. Some people will only believe what they want to, even though countless other sources of scientific information contradict those findings.

  3. I once had a boyfriend who was really into acupuncture and wanted to cure my short-sightedness with a bunch of needles very close to and some even in my eyes.
    Also no to a tooth pick poking between my eyebrows.
    The rest, why not, what’s the … oh.

  4. Anyone else think of Mr Burns jabbing Santa’s Little Helper in the face?

    “Poka poka poka poka”

  5. I use acupuncture. It’s freekin amazing. I suffer from Repetitive Strain Injury in my wrists and forearms and acupuncture once a week restores my mobility and eliminates pain. I tried drugs because I like them and they didn’t work. Believe me, it’d be cheaper to just take some drugs but they don’t work.

    It’s twenty minutes a week and it saved me.

    For those who don’t believe it’s hard to understand why. If you think about it, a lisensed Registered Massage Therapist uses the same pressure points – it’s just different technique.

    There is definitely risk, however. Most definitely. If one starts poking around willy-nilly you run into the real risk of permanent nerve or tissue damage. (This is how facial piercings can have adverse effects on your nervous system if done incorrectly.) In Canada, acupuncturists are educated for 2~3 yrs and are lisensed. Not sure about the US, though.

  6. Woo though it may be, I’ll just point out that the maladies listed (back pain, insomnia, allergy symptoms, and constipation) are quite likely to be at least partially treatable via the placebo effect. Exactly how much impact they’re having on you is at least partly subjective (I know I have days when allergy symptoms *bother* me more, even if by any objective measure they’re the same intensity). If you *think* the treatment works, you’ll report an improvement in condition, mostly due to greater ability to tolerate the objective level of symptoms.

    But it almost certainly has nothing but placebo going for it, and finding a good massage therapist is almost certainly a better way to spend your alternative-medicine resources (at least for some things – massage therapy does wonders for all the soft tissue damage I’ve acquired over five decades, but if I found a tumor I’m asking for a referral to an oncologist).

    1. Indeed — with any woo I try to think about what would make it have an effect past that.

      The constipation — sure, poking around your midsection might help, especially if you’re tense.

      The insomnia — the pressure on the heel does feel good and it might relax you a bit.

      The allergy — poking there might provoke some kind of gearing-up-to-sneeze-like response, which might help with something — I can’t imagine what though.

      The lower back pain — you’re on your meridian nerve there (I think, at least a branch off of it if I haven’t confused meridian with the other nerve — I’m thinking the funny bone nerve) but I think that’s likely more distraction than anything else. Although when you do reach over there, you twist around a bit, and if you’re trying to relax your back, you might find that as an aid to do so.

      One step past the placebo effect is misdirection. You think you’re doing woo, but you’re distracting your conscious mind so that you can relax, not worry about the ailment so it can heal on its own, etc.

  7. I’m sure acupuncture works at some level. It’s a placebo effect. Otherwise, I will say I like the style of illustration.

  8. I love it when people who have obviously never tried it and only have one-sided sources to quote dismiss acupuncture and by extension, all traditional medicine. Really, that’s my favorite thing.

  9. I only came here because I misread the RSS as “tsuba” instead of “tsubo”, but I liked the post anyway, Lisa. Thanks!

    Now you can sit back and watch all the fanatical shills of the corporate medical-industrial complex work themselves into a lather.

  10. It’s stuff like this that prevent genuinely helpful, muscular-skeletal treatments, such as trigger point therapy, from getting the popular support it needs to acquire insurance approval. Or the adequate research funding from going into muscular skeletal disorders that would resolve them in the first place.

    s smn dsbld wth chrnc myfscl pn, thnk y fr mkng my lf msrbl nd tkng wy my crr.

    1. I’m sorry you’ve got pain. I’ve met others out there with a lot of pain who have gotten no success with trigger point therapy/injections, but who have had success with acupuncture. I do manual trigger point therapy a few different ways (and teach patients how to do it themselves) and refer patients out so they can get trigger point injections. Some patients who’ve had both have found signficant benefit for one over the other. I don’t do acupuncture or acupressure, but do refer people for it when I think it’s indicated. In my neck of the woods trigger point therapy has much better insurance coverage than acupuncture on average, though I’m not sure that one trumps the other. It’s much easier to get insurance to pay forty times as much for spinal surgery, though there’s a paucity of double blind placebo studies indicating it’s helpful. Though I think it often is, but feel free to disregard it as woo.

  11. Some may find The Healthy Skeptic‘s recent article series on Acupuncture to be an interesting read. He essentially explains how it works through western scientific understanding and argues against the “qi” and “meridian” theories.


    As for tsubos and acu-points, these almost directly mirror the map of trigger points (where knots form) that massage therapists study. What this means exactly, I am not sure, but I don’t think it can really be argued that there isn’t something there.

  12. “… paying a shit ton of money…”

    I think you just summed up your experience of and in America with one eloquently unintended statement.

  13. I experience mild back pain due to a fall when I was younger. Physical therapy (prescribed by my doctor) was of no use. Regular exercise definitely helps. However, undergoing several sessions of acupuncture each year really makes an immediate difference – I can now sit in the car or plane for long periods without getting uncomfortable.

    A single session will not do any good. 5-10 over a month or two is what is typically recommended. The best sessions have been with real, qualified, Chinese doctors (either when I was living in Asia, or Chinese doctors practicing in New York). If it hurts (more than a pinch), or you see a tiny bit of blood on more than one occasion, get another doctor.

    Most insurance companies won’t cover you, and you could pay $100/session for private treatment. My current doctor uses both massage and acupuncture treatment, submits a bill for the massage part (which is covered), and uses my co-pay to offset the acupuncture.

    My wife and my father have both benefited from this treatment. To be honest, looking at the linked site listing people who have been “harmed” by it, I cannot understand why dirty needles are only specific to acupuncture (well, duh; you watch the clean needles come out of a sealed wrapper before the treatment), or why someone with heat burns or a hormonal balance would try this and expect good results. I guess everything has its risks, but I am delighted I tried it.

    – Barry.

  14. Japan does not have a “free” health care system. According to http://www2.gol.com/users/jpc/Japan/taxes.htm#Rates,

    Japan Health Insurance System, which covers all employees and their dependants for medical and dental expenses, at hospitals and clinics which operate under the system. It does not cover any expense outside Japan. The rate is officially 8.5% of the taxable income.

    I pay roughly the same amount (between 6 and 9 percent of my taxable income) for health care for myself and my family in the USA.

    1. Japan does not have “free” health care, but everyone is covered (or at least required to be) by health insurance. According to T. R. Reid, author of “The Healing of America,” “the insurance plans must accept everyone who applies, regardless of preexisting conditions, and they must pay every bill submitted by a physician or a hospital.” Compare that to the U.S. where a full-time employee with benefits might spend 6 to 9 percent of taxable income on health care. But contractors, the unemployed, or anyone with a preexisting condition might not be so lucky. As a freelancer, I figure the cheapest
      (high-deductible) health insurance I could purchase would cost me at least 15% of my yearly taxable income for premiums alone.

      1. Compare that to the U.S. where a full-time employee with benefits might spend 6 to 9 percent of taxable income on health care.

        Make that 6 plus 9 percent. I pay 15% of my gross income, of which 14% is just the premiums.

  15. Funny how things change across time and cultures. I know the term tsubo from martial arts study years (and years) ago, and was kinda baffled to see “masseuses” in Lisa’s opening sentence. By the second paragraph I realized, “Oh, she’s talking about shiatsu,” a really great habit I picked up years (and years) ago. (Although these days, in the west, it’s now morphed into “shiatsu massage”….what I was taught centered on static pressure; no rubbing/stroking/kneading. Is the steady application of pressure more properly called tsubo these days?)

    Sign me: a synchronic guy trying to adapt to the tsubo of a diachronic world….

  16. Kymus: I’m afraid you are mistaken regarding the ‘mirror mapping’ of acu-points and trigger points.

    There are a few that seem to correspond, as you would expect from two sets of many points scattered across the body: it’s just coincidence.

    And, what’s more, trigger points effect the muscles and nerves under the point, or other trigger points, connected via the nervous system. The woo points displayed above have no such demonstrable physiological connection.

    Check out Claire Davis’s book on Trigger Point Therapy if you want to see where mysofascial trigger points are.

    1. Hi Walter,

      I’m a certified massage therapist, so I’m already very familiar with trigger points, etc. (though thank you for the book recommendation, I’ll look at it regardless). Having seen both the trigger point chart and acu-point chart side-by-side, I’m not sure why you say that there are “few that seem to correspond” when it’s (rather painfully, IMO) obvious that they’re nearly identical. Consider this news release from Mayo Clinic: http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2008-jax/4798.html

  17. If someone can give me a conclusive, scientifically-vetted in a respected journal, large group, double-blind study, that acupuncture is NOT effective in treating pain then I’ll start believing the skeptics.

    Until then, your non-belief, is still just that, a belief, and showing me a “skeptic’s guide the the universe” kind of website doesn’t really prove your point, since the jury is still out on if it is or not an effective technique to control pain.

    I do think though that even though this guide is cute, it’s probably not in the best interest trying these techniques on yourself since I do believe it could be possible to cause some harm if done incorrectly (whatever than means).

    1. How the hell do you double-blind a study that involves sticking needles in someone?

      I think you’ve got it a little backwards, JohnnyOC. You’re saying, “Prove it doesn’t work,” when the onus should certainly be on practitioners and proponents to prove it does.

      1. How the hell do you double-blind a study that involves sticking needles in someone?

        Tell the doctor that is blinded that the patient has constipation, and not insomnia.

        Though still, that isn’t 100% effective since TCM feels that there is no treatment X for condition Y. The system needs to be designed better for the usage of therapies like TCM that do not take such a singular view.

      2. Pfft. Bringing people in? Easy. If people are in chronic pain I imagine it’s not going to matter a bit about the needles if it helps in controlling pain.

        So, you’re saying that with all of our scientific knowledge and technology today we can’t scientifically measure the amount of pain that a person is relieved from over a period of time with similar conditions using a certain pain relief method? MRI scans of pain centers in the brain, etc, etc? Splitting people into a control group to see if there is a marked placebo effect?

        Isn’t the bedrock of a scientifically controlled experiment to prove or DISPROVE a hypothesis?

        I’m not asking for a “test of faith” like this is some sort of pseudo-religion and acupuncture is a complete healing art. I’m just saying that a massively funded large scientific study is possible to prove or disprove a marked effect in pain controlwith these methods.

        1. I read the transcripts of two of those videos, regeya, and I don’t think they were double-blinded experiments. Double-blinding means that neither the subject nor treatment administrator have any idea whether the treatment is a placebo or not.

          The other thing to consider is that in both of the transcripts I read (‘Healing Rituals’ and ‘Needles and Nerves’), the general consensus was that in any experiments, acupuncture had no more effect than ‘sham’ acupuncture. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the idea of chi and distinct pressure points.

          The meta-analysis that Ito Kagehisa links to is interesting, and seems to provide support for acupuncture as an analgesic (although it concludes its effects are the same as a placebo in many other areas). I’m pretty sure I’ve heard criticisms of it in the SGU podcast, but I can’t remember the details. Steve Novella does talk about acupuncture studies on his blog, though, so you can get the gist of the major arguments against it there.

          One last, entirely personal and opinionated, point: docbombay, talking about acupuncture as analgesic or a good relaxation technique is one thing, but when you start claiming that acupuncture “cured people” of ailments, you had better have some rock-solid evidence. Otherwise, you’re guiding people away from good medicine towards unproven technique, and that’s where alternative medicine starts to become dangerous.

          1. Off the top of my head, it broke up all of the calcium deposits in the soles of my father’s feet after a lifetime of drinking hard water.
            My point is, if you have a serious condition (severe injury, life-threatening illness) you should probably see a good western doctor who really won’t know any more than a good acupuncturist, but will have much better resources. But for small/medium things (chronic joint and muscle aches, arthritis, blood pressure, etc.) a good acupuncturist should have no problem helping you and I stand by that. Now, as to HOW it works, as I said, I would totally believe that a good portion of it is placebo, i.e. just stimulating your immune system and natural healing tendencies.

    2. Well exactly! It’s the same way I believe in the healing power of the unicorn’s horn, because I’ve never seen a double-blind study written up in a well-respected scientific journal proving that it doesn’t cure all ailments!

      1. Damn, people. Maybe I worded the original post wrong. Blindly following a pseudo-scientific skeptical site to me is just as bad as completely believing that acupuncture can cure everything.

        My personal belief is acupuncture is mostly bunk put I haven’t seen a bedrock of evidence that says it is. The above Malaysian study link look like it does have some merit though.

        Buncha harpies! ;)

        1. You’re right, that was a straw man, and of course I don’t think anyone here (or anywhere) believes in unicorns. It was obnoxious; I’m sorry.
          My point, though, still stands: If one states that one will believe in something until it is proven wrong, where does that begin and end? There are so many things that have not–or can not–be proven wrong, and obviously one is not going to believe in EVERYTHING (like unicorns) until it’s proven wrong.
          That’s why I think a good goal (I’m not claiming I -or anyone- always succeeds in this) is to believe in nothing until the evidence that it is right is overwhelming.

      2. You’re right – unicorn horns cure MOST ailments, but (iirc) not ones that make you go “Ulch!”

  18. Boing Boing, giving a voice to scientifically illiterate people since… whenever.

    “Until then, your non-belief, is still just that, a belief”


    skepticism is a smart move. Non belief isn’t a belief, just like bald isn’t a hair color.

    Belief – I believe it doesn’t work.
    non belief – I don’t believe it has been shown to work.

    It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

    Acupuncture is a placebo, thats it. It works because people think it works.

    There’s dozens of studies that prove this to be true.

    Two controls. One with a trained acupuncturist hitting “pressure points”, One with a person just randomly sticking needles.

    Guess what, they’re both as effective as each other.

    Its a placebo.

  19. dwdyer: “One step past the placebo effect is misdirection. You think you’re doing woo, but you’re distracting your conscious mind so that you can relax, not worry about the ailment so it can heal on its own, etc.”

    Amen to that. Once many years ago I landed in a hospital ER with a severe migraine (we’re talking “unable to stand without help” severe, and my pain tolerance is high enough that I once walked about a hundred yards on a torn Achilles tendon). The doc on duty pumped some variety of opiate into me, and 5 minutes later I remember thinking quite clearly “Ya know, that doc needs to give somebody another shot, because somebody’s head hurts just as much as it did before. If I figure out who the somebody is, I’ll tell them that, but in the meantime nothing is bothering me at the moment, except not being sure who’s head hurts anymore…”

    Massive misdirection in effect there. :)

  20. Well, I can attest the one for allergy symptoms. I discovered that remedy myself. Unfortunately, the relief is sustained only while I maintain the pressure. I always thought that I was merely pressing back against the internal sinus pressure.

  21. It amazes me that you could grow up in Japan and still be completely ignorant of its health insurance system. It is not free. Very far from it.

  22. Anyone remember the National Geographic infographic comparing health care costs by nation? It was posted here on Boing Boing.


    Health care costs in the United States are so powerfully deranged that thinking the Japanese version is free could be an honest mistake. It might as well be, comparatively speaking.

    On the basis of this infographic alone I would be interested to hear from the Japanese about how terrible their national health care program is.

    And chalk me up as another individual not the least bit skeptical about the health benefits of massage.

  23. Numerous randomized, controlled trials and more than 25 systematic reviews and meta-analyses have evaluated the clinical efficacy of acupuncture. Evidence from these trials indicates that acupuncture is effective for emesis developing after surgery or chemotherapy in adults and for nausea associated with pregnancy. Good evidence exists that acupuncture is also effective for relieving dental pain. For such conditions as chronic pain, back pain, and headache, the data are equivocal or contradictory. Clinical research on acupuncture poses unique methodologic challenges. Properly performed acupuncture seems to be a safe procedure. Basic-science research provides evidence that begins to offer plausible mechanisms for the presumed physiologic effects of acupuncture.

    from http://www.annals.org/content/136/5/374.abstract

    It’s peer-reviewed, so bow down and worship it.

  24. Pain after dental surgery provides a good model of acupuncture analgesia due to its limited and predictable course. In a typical RCT, patients undergoing
    third molar extraction were randomised to receive acupuncture or placebo on a double blind basis. The mean duration of the pain-free interval following surgery was 181 minutes in acupuncture patients and 71 minutes in controls, a statistically significant difference. A systematic review of 16 such studies concluded that
    acupuncture was probably effective for pain after dental surgery and that future research should concentrate on
    defining “the optimal acupuncture technique”.

    from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1743552/pdf/v011p00092.pdf

    It’s double-blind, so bow down and worship it.

  25. I read about the between-the-nose thing in an old yoga book (using your thumb, not a toothpick). One time I tried it when I was stuffed up from allergies and my nose turned on like a faucet. It’s worked a couple of times for me since.

    Anecdotes don’t prove anything, but you don’t have to believe in magical energy to believe that some of this stuff might work. Probably the reason why this has worked for me is because I was pulling or pushing on something that actually contained mucous and either pulled bottle neck open or pushed some stuff out. When you remember that your body is just a big sack of stuff, it’s not that hard to believe that pushing on on part can affect another.

    As for what harm it can do, the link given mostly shows people who had complete faith that acupuncture had the foolproof answer to everything, even the most serious diseases. That’s a pretty big leap from deciding to press the centre of your heel when you can’t sleep, and I don’t think it’s a very fair comparison.

  26. As is usual, the skeptics are completely right, and the woos are completely woo.

    Also, as is usual, there is absolutely no way to change the minds of the woos, so I no longer even bother trying. If people like James Randi can’t fix them, I certainly can’t, and especially not with a comment on a blog.

    I’ll just let people know that the blog http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/ exists, and you can read it yourself.

    1. As is usual, the skeptics are completely right, and the woos are completely woo.

      Yep, there’s no middle ground! It’s a black and white world.

      Woo” means “people who loudly spout their scientific knowledge and expertise although they have done no experiments and have not personally verified the truth of any of their sources”, right?

      I’m so out of step with this modern world; I can’t seem to keep my mind bolted closed.

      1. “I’m so out of step with this modern world; I can’t seem to keep my mind bolted closed.”

        That sounds like a form of trepanism, odd that they’d be fonder of that than acupuncture.

  27. I am usually quite proud to scoff at religion, superstition and general folk-hokum, but after working in an acupuncture clinic for several years I know it works. It does not work for every condition every time and I am fairly certain that the placebo effect plays a rather large part in it, but I have seen it fix a lot of ailments for a lot of people.
    And I don’t just mean “alleviate pain”. I mean it cured people.

  28. Even the debate started to get a little heated, I really appreciate some of the links shown above. Thanks, guys!

  29. Don’t: use acupuncture to treat actual illness or injury

    Do: occasionally or regularly give yourself a relaxing and healthful little massage in different places on your body.

  30. Lester, your link about “what’s the harm in acupuncture” says very little about acupuncture. I think we can all agree that the HIV-positive woman who chose treatments including “homeopathy, acupuncture and drinking her own urine” was an idiot. The anecdotes on that page illustrate two kinds of danger: that of ignoring other kinds of medicine, and that of using unsterile needles. Neither of these is an inherent danger of acupuncture itself.

    I’m not taking a stand for or against acupuncture by posting this; I’ve never tried it, and the research findings seem to depend on who’s doing the study. I’ve heard enough people swear by it that I’m not willing to dismiss it entirely, anyway.

    1. “I think we can all agree that the HIV-positive woman who chose treatments including “homeopathy, acupuncture and drinking her own urine” was an idiot.”
      Because she could have been easily cured by ???
      Alternative treatments need to be measured against conventional medicine, not perfection. If my doctors diagnose me with an incurable terminal disease, and I have the faintest suspicion that drinking pee might be an effective treatment- I’m going to try the pee!!!

  31. It’s not free, but cheaper than the US. We pay a tax on our income that covers two thirds of our medical bills. We also enjoy state of the art 1970’s medicine unless we can bully our doctors in prescribing much more expensive (but useful) medicine that is almost state of the art 1990’s. But don’t get me started on the Japanese health system. Maltreatment is rife, doctors commonly accept bribes, hospitals prescribe unnecessarily long hospital stays (I think the longest average hospital stays in the world but I don’t have the data on me).

    So yes, it is better than the US (but why compare with the worst???) but far worse than most Scandinavian systems.

    Also, in Japan, we have never heard of preventive medicine and is just recently coming to terms with little things like rehabilitation.

    Ms. Katayama was probably too young to remember that kids usually enjoy free health service here (under 18). Which is nice.

  32. After 5 years of intense, chronic lower back pain (muscle only) after an ATV accident at the age of 15, acupuncture treatments in Taiwan cleared it right up. Never been a problem since (it’s been 20 years since treatment).

  33. I am very intrigued that apparently in Japan and in Taiwan (where I am covered by the Medicare-for-all universal system) there appears to be no long waits for generalists OR specialists. One can simply walk right in.

    Then again, I agree with #43 that one has to push doctors for more expensive or radical or innovative treatments.

  34. So. I’m a chiropractor. I’ve had some training in acupuncture, and while a student, used it in the student run clinic in my school in Illinois. I don’t use acupuncture now, though I could get licensed in it relatively easily in a nearby state, but I prefer to focus on chiropractic and physical therapy.

    One patient I saw had adhesive capsulitis/frozen shoulder. His MD had given him the same diagnosis. Wiki the condition if you’re not familiar. There’s not a lot of easy fixes for it. There was an acupuncture treatment that was highly touted, using a spot on the outside of the opposite knee. I know, it’s wacky. But it worked faster than anything I’d seen before or since for adhesive capsulitis. He was able to raise his arm to near 180 degrees after two sessions. It wasn’t all better, but it was a lot better. Conventionally it’s not supposed to recover that quickly. Surgically treated, it doesn’t do that well. A few studies on this seeing similar benefit, not randomized, or blinded. Quite wacky.
    No nerves connect the knee and shoulder directly, no muscular attachment.
    But. There’s studies on cats, where they significantly lesion the brain and spinal cord and they keep walking. There’s the human infant walking reflex. And once we were quadripeds. And in my mind, it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that there remains a vestigial reflex whereby the stimulation of a pressure sensitive nerve in a hind limb leads to a reaching/preparation for motion of the fore limb, possibly releasing whatever was bolloxing the shoulder joint.
    This is quite theoretical and anecdotal, and I only had the one adhesive capsulitis patient to work on while I was doing acupuncture. Feel free to still call it all woo, feel free to disregard it completely as placebo. Patients generally have more faith in the “REAL DOCTORS” and the “REAL MEDICINES”, so if placebo’s going to work, they’ll have more juju than quacks like me. We get seen often after they’ve washed out of the stuff the patient actually believes in.

    Yes I know Clair Davies does TP work for this. So do I. I believe TP therapy works well for mild to severe tendonitis of the shoulder, but have not seen it work nearly as well for true adhesive capsulitis. Clair Davies books are a good book for learning about trigger point therapy, though not the first for the layman, Bonnie Prudden’s had one out since the 70’s. But Davies is better in my mind.

  35. Health care is a pricy chore here in the U.S. – for now. I wonder if some of this alternative medicine craze is an economic symptom. Like, people are turning to it – not after having seen ten doctors with no relief – but without having seen even a single doctor, because it’s so damn expensive. If my symptoms are mundane – the logic goes – then why do I need a Caddilac solution? (Allergies, insomnia, constipation – I’m not surprised I’ve never heard of an accupressure point for cancer. We slum it a little and Bob-Vila our bodies b/c our symptoms are annoying, but (ostensibly) not life threatening. Also, telling someone they should cure cancer with a toothpick to the noggin has wrongful death liability written all over it.) I’m not saying this is harmless – it’s the ‘creationism’ of medicine. But until it’s less expensive to get my allergies checked out by a doctor than it would be to ride it out with OTCs and palm prodding – I get the appeal.

  36. I’ve seen acupuncture used on animals at a veterinary clinic.) It was used to treat pain– but AFAIK animals aren’t subject to placebo effects .
    Part of the problem with acupuncture/acupressure skepticism, is if you are greatly overestimating how scientific “Western” medical practice is. The millions of antidepressants prescribed, for example. Yes, it boost serotonin more than sugar pills, but it is often prescribed as “placebo+” The huge number of medication mistakes, the outbreaks of antibiotic resistant bacteria in hospitals, unnecessary surgeries and procedures… Medical practice should be measured in outcomes, not the existence of underlying scientific frameworks. For example, western medicine still cannot cure AIDS. Is it really so bad for someone essentially given a death sentence by Western medicine, to try acupuncture? I think not.

  37. Chairman Mao’s non-use of acupuncture doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. There are many clinical studies of acupuncture which show it is not just placebo effect. Acupuncture and massage are practiced widely in Asia in a manner complimentary to modern Western medicines.

  38. I’ve had first-hand experience with the Japanese health care system. It’s a LONG WAY from “wonderful”.

    What it IS is bureaucratic, slow, old-fashioned, and if you happen to be a woman, terribly sexist.

    1. You are speaking from your own personal view, which by itself has value, but I too have current ‘personal’ experience with the Japanese health care system and find it quite satisfactory. I don’t consider the health care system here any more sexist than other parts of the culture here. Your problem with waiting and sexism doesn’t translate into poor health care.

      The fact is the average Japanese is far healthier than the average American. While nothing is perfect, I expect the main difference to be levels of exercise, a more healthy diet (unfortunately being westernized-fattened up), and oddly enough a populace that actually follows the doctors prescription and completes and follows up on treatment instead of trying to second-guess the man who went through several years of medical school to learn his vocation.

  39. I love it… the simple truth is it’s all in your brain… your heart does not beat unless your brain tells it to… absolutely no doctor (or drug, or treatment) can heal you… the best they can do is help you with your symptoms wile your body heals its self!
    It’s all up to your body to heal itself!!!
    So use what ever works for you.. and how do you know if it works if you have not tried it? sure not every treatment is good for every ailment, and if your not suffering why are you seeking help?
    Simple test for any treatment… how long has it been used?
    Treatments that have been around for thousands of years need to be noticed… and (sadly) all most problems need is someone to care… we are all human animals after all…

  40. The real problem with the Japanese health care system is (and no, I’m not kidding, I lived there for 5 years) that the doctors can set up their practice to get a cut of the prescriptions they write.

    In other words, many Japanese doctors have financial incentives to prescribe medicines. When I lived there in the 90’s Japan had prescription pharmaceuticals that existed nowhere else in the world… because they didn’t do anything. Essentially they were prescribed placebos.

    To quote an article found after a quick Google:
    “The lack of separation of prescribing and dispensing contributes to over-prescription of medication through kickbacks paid by the powerful pharmaceutical industry.”

    That’s the bad part; most of the rest is good. For example, the system is set up to heavily incentivize prevention; more complex and expensive treatments tend to be less lucrative than they are in other countries. But the low cost also means low frills; family are often expected to provide food during hospital stays.

  41. I hear a lot of people talking down the Placebo effect. OK, that’s fine. However, suppose a person suffers from, say, kidney stones. If any treatment (medical, traditional, or otherwise) provides some relief, isn’t that a benefit to the patient?

    I don’t have to claim that a massage cures some problem to derive benefit from it. A good massage leaves me feeling really freaking good, and that’s reason enough.

  42. 1. My cousin had an artificial knee replacement operation using acupuncture instead of chemical anesthesia because his transplant kidney could not take the chemicals and he felt no pain and it worked well.

    2. The doubters should visit the Qigong master Chunyi Lin in Minnesota. He claims he can put a needle in a person and, if it is rotated one direction you will feel hot and sweat, and if it is rotated the other direction you will feel very cold. Simple claim, easy to verify. Then choose what to believe yourself. Placebo or not.

    A 60 year old friend fell and severed his rotator cuff tendon. He had surgery and then started doing the Qigong exercises, the inner meditation small universe, and his doctor was very impressed by how fast he was healing, telling him he was healing like someone half his age.

    And Qigong doesn’t even involve needles, or even touching the person.

    Master Chunyi Lin was named 2010 Qigong Master of the Year at the 12th World Congress on Qigong/TCM in San Francisco, California on April 24, 2010.

    The Mayo Clinic has been studying him because enough people they gave up on as having terminal cancer, came back healthy for a physical later.

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