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Initially, there were no specific locations on the body for applying either moxa or acupuncture but gradually, through empirical experience, the use of specific points on the skin were shown to be of value in particular diseases. Acupuncture points are undoubtedly the end-product of millions of detailed observations and as they were developed so each of them was given a name and Chinese character, depending on its therapy properties.
Acupuncture points were subsequently grouped into a system of channels which run over the body, conducting the flow of vital energy through the body. The acupuncture points on a channel are said to influence the flow of vital energy through the channel, thereby influencing disease processes in the body. The first clear reference to the points and channels is in the Nei Ching Su Wen which defines the main channels and acupuncture points. The Nei Ching Su Wen also makes the observation ‘in pain, puncture the tender spot’, and the use of painful points probably represents the original method by which many of the acupuncture points were discovered. There is an instinctive urge to cause more pain over a painful area; the image of a person with toothache, pressing on the painful tooth, is a frequent cartoonists’ joke. Common painful diseases consistently cause painful points to emerge in well defined anatomical locations over the body. When this point is stimulated the pain can be alleviated; hence the idea of a point for treating pain. From this simple beginning it is easy to see how a system of acupuncture points evolved. The evolution of the channels connecting these acupuncture points is more difficult to understand. These seem to have evolved from an intuitive understanding of the flow of vital energy through the body. It is unclear from where the idea of channels originated, but for the last 2,000 years they have formed an essential part of traditional Chinese medicine.