All in the Palm of Your Hand

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All in the Palm of Your Hand

Whenever she feels a stiff shoulder coming on, Lee Kyung-ah, a 33-year-old piano teacher, probes her hand to find where it hurts the most and inserts short, thin needles into her fingers and hand. Ms. Lee is one of the estimated million people in Korea today, including acupuncturists and lay people, who practice Koryo Sooji Chim, also known as Korean hand acupuncture. Koryo Sooji Chim is an acupuncture therapy that relieves pains and symptoms in the body by stimulating specific points in the hand said to be correlated with the affected area.

Faithful adherents of hand acupuncture, such as Ms. Lee, carry around a little box of probes and needles to use in case of emergency. Ms. Lee, who took a three-month hand acupuncture course four years ago, now treats everything from her own stiff shoulders to her niece's stye and her father's stomach cramps.

Yoo Tae-woo is a 56-year-old doctor of oriental medicine who developed the hand acupuncture system in 1971 while trying to ease his headaches. According to him, Korean hand acupuncture is based on the theory that a disturbance in the blood flow to the brain may affect bodily organs and result in illness. Traditional body acupuncture relieves pain through the production of endorphins by stimulating trigger points in the locality of the body part afflicted. While this may be effective in treating pain, it is not a fundamental method of treating pain or of regulating the amount of blood flow in the brain.

A major advantage of Koryo Sooji Chim over traditional acupuncture (and one with which even skeptics would agree) is that the needles are much smaller and the depth of penetration much shallower. "There is very little or no pain involved," said Dr. Yoo. Another big plus is that while Koryo Sooji Chim claims to bring about fast and effective relief from pain, there are no side effects. "If the incorrect point is stimulated, the worst that can happen is that it will not be effective," he explained.

Easy accessibility also accounts for the popularity of hand acupuncture. Most of the commonly used prescriptions for minor complaints can be learnt in two to three hours although about 20 to 30 hours of study are necessary to learn all the fundamentals. Prescription kits for common ailments such as colds and indigestion, containing a chart of corresponding points on the hand and a pack of disposable tiny needles on adhesive tapes, known as T-needles, are available for those who need quick remedies.

Although there are several levels of treatment in Korean hand acupuncture, or correspondence therapy, the treatment of the points on the hand that correspond to the parts of the body forms its foundation. Each hand represents the whole body; the middle finger corresponding to the head, the index and ring fingers the arms and the thumb and the little finger, the legs.

Correspondence therapy is based on the theory that when there is a disorder in the body, the corresponding point on your hand becomes tender. So therapy begins with locating the corresponding point on the hand. A blunt probe tip or finger pressure is used to find the approximate points of greatest tenderness on the hand or fingers. A sharper tipped probe is then used to find sorest point. When pressure is applied to the precise reflex point, there is noticeable pain.

After the precise corresponding points have been found, these points are stimulated using a variety of tools including needles, moxa (a medicinal herb), a magnet, applied pressure or an electronic beam. The most commonly used devices, however, are special hand needles that are thinner and shorter than standard acupuncture needles. They are inserted with the help of a device to guide them in.

While the number of points that are stimulated varies according to the treatment, focusing on 10 points is the most common. The needles, inserted about 1-3 millimeters deep, are usually left in for 20-30 minutes, although the period of treatment may range between five minutes and one hour. Needles may be used on the corresponding points on either hand but it is preferable to treat the hand on the same side of the body as the symptom or illness. Treatments are given every other day or every day, and continued until the symptoms disappear.

Moxibustion is another commonly used method of stimulating the corresponding points on the hand. A perforated pad is affixed to the skin at the correct point, and moxa, an herb, is burnt on the pad, which is taken off each time it gets hot. For men, odd numbers of moxa pads are burned at each point and for women, even numbers. Moxibustion, either indirectly as just described, or burnt directly on the hand without the use of pads, is claimed as beneficial for treating symptoms of fatigue.

While Koryo Sooji Chim is alleged to be effective in treating a wide range of ailments such as infertility, rheumatic arthritis, allergy and stroke, there are limits to what it can do. "Clearly, conditions that require surgery and infectious diseases cannot be cured using hand acupuncture," Dr. Yoo cautioned.

Dr. Yoo claims the treatment can play a useful part in complementing Western medicine by alleviating pain and promoting recovery. "For example, hand acupuncture can lessen the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients, relieving nausea, so that the patients can continue to receive the treatment," he said.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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