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Acupuncture: A Connective Tale

Source: Vermont Public Television: Emerging Science

How will Western medicine make sense of acupuncture? Initially dismissed and now more or less accepted as an alternative or complementary treatment, acupuncture is still marginalized in medical education, mainly because it is based on theories and philosophies so different from the scientific methodologies that emerged in Europe and America over the last few centuries.

But that period of marginalization may be ending soon. A 25-minute video from the Vermont PBS series Emerging Science focuses on the work of Helene Langevin, MD, a University of Vermont researcher who is exploring relationships between acupuncture and the largely unknown world of connective tissue. Usually, when we think of connective tissue, we think of muscles, ligaments, and tendons, specialized connectors for large structural elements like bones and organs. But non-specialized connective tissues are everywhere in the body. They are beneath the skin, part of every organ; they enclose the tiniest vessels and pathways, quite literally connecting everything to everything else.

Dr. Langevin is applying Western methodological tools to the practice of acupuncture. She is looking in connective tissue for a mechanistic path” between the physical actions of the acupuncturists’ needles and patients’ experiences of pain reduction. She seeks to document the means by which connective tissues exchange information across their extensive network. In a society that has become dangerously pill-dependent, many clinicians are ready to open a conversation between different cultural and medical traditions. It’s possible that Dr. Langevin’s work heralds a new chapter in that conversation.