Feedback From An Angry Reader

Blogging aside, I do a lot of writing in my spare time. Last year, I started writing for a few online publications. Those online blogs are quite similar to what I write here; it is all about clarifying the language of Chinese medicine to the average reader who has no idea what acupuncture is all about. I often use material from this blog, and a few weeks ago I decided to send in a post about the concept of stagnation. The post can be found here:

After this blog was published, I received some feedback from a reader who was not happy with what I had written. Here was his response to my blog about stagnation:

It's so weird to read an article full of 18th century claims on my 21st century computer! Not just that, but the claims are dangerously inaccurate. Just for one example, the statement that, "Swelling, inflammation, and stiffness all stem from an interrupted flow of blood or qi." is patently absurd. First of all, equating those three conditions is inaccurate, so let's just look at the first one. Swelling due to fluid accumulation can be caused by cardiovascular disease, allergies, injury, kidney disease, phlebitis, auto-immune disease or just being on your feet for too long (among other causes). To claim that swelling is really just 'stagnation' or 'interrupted blood flow' is wrong. If a reader with swollen ankles believes the article and thinks the cause of their swelling is 'stagnation', it could be downright dangerous!! It's the 21st century. We know how blood flows in the body. We know it travels in arteries, veins and capillaries - NOT 'rivers'. We know what causes swelling. We know enough not to reason by analogy when it comes to medicine. The author should bring her ideas up to date or refrain from publishing them. That way, she won't be responsible for someone thinking they need some acupuncture when they really need a cardiologist!!

My response:

First of all, thank you for your input. The point of this blog is to educate about traditional Chinese medicine, from a modern perspective. If the language seems strange, it is because many of the theories that form the cornerstone of this medicine date back to the 2nd century...and they still apply today! My goal is to clarify the unfamiliar and sometimes confusing language of acupuncture, so that the modern patient can feel comfortable with the terminology. Stagnation is a concept that we deal with quite often in this field, so I felt that it deserved some blog coverage. In this medicine, "stagnation" is a simply a term for things being stuck, and not moving the way they should-it is by no means any sort of medical diagnosis. When it comes down to it, all of the conditions that you mentioned above are cases of things not moving through the body the way they should. You may not believe in the concept of energetic meridians, but surely you can agree that smooth circulation of blood and fluids through the body is vital for maintaining health. If the flow isn't smooth, problems will arise. It's the same theory, only from a different perspective. And just to clarify, I never claimed that stagnation could not lead to a serious health issue, or that acupuncture is a remedy for all issues stemming from stagnation...and I never would. If someone came into my office with a suspected blood clot, I would drive them to the hospital myself before putting a needle in them!

And his following response:

Using greatly outdated language and concepts doesn't explain anything about anything. Since your stated goal is to "Eras[e] misconceptions about acupuncture and natural health" how about if you do so by using accurate language and concepts. How about if you start by writing an article emphasizing that NOBODY should get acupuncture for any symptoms without the recommendation of a physician? How about if you then base any articles after that on clinical studies showing the value and limitations of acupuncture? Truthful articles about the placebo effect and the concepts of clinical studies (controls, adequate sample size, blinding) would also be educational to readers.For example, acupuncture has been shown clinically to reduce pain such as migraine headaches, extubation in children, rheumatoid arthritis and a few other specific conditions. It has been shown clinically to be no better than sham acupuncture or other placebos for a much longer list of medical conditions. It hasn't been shown to increase blood flow in any great way. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure in hypotensive individuals, but so have placebos!Acupuncture's efficacy has nothing to do with 'flow' or 'reversing stagnation' or qi, but has been shown clinically to be due to increasing the secretion of endorphins and disrupting certain nerve pathways. You do touch on the worst thing about acupuncture -- because there are a lot of gullible people out there, they will go to an acupuncturist instead of an emergency room for life-threatening conditions. You may drive someone with a blood clot to the ER, but since they came to you first, they wasted time which would have been better served by getting real medical attention. Their gullibilty could even kill them!!Belief has no place in the practice of medicine. Instead, we should rely on science and proven remedies. Anything else is just shams and too-expensive placebo effect.

These comments really reinforce the importance of clarifying the language of Chinese medicine. Yes, the terminology is quite different...and the entire point of this blog is to make that terminology accessible to the average person, who has no experience with acupuncture. In my mind, I have created a clear distinction between Chinese and Western medical terms, both in this blog and in any online publications that I have written for. However, this misinterpretation of a very basic concept in acupuncture leads me to wonder: have I been clear enough? Do I need to preface each article I write with some sort of disclaimer?

I would love for blog readers to give me their honest opinions about this matter...I'm quite interested to hear what you all think!