Introduction to Topographic Acupuncture by Dr. Bruce Ferguson

Most of the veterinary acupuncture training programs in the world today teach a post-Maoist “herbal” acupuncture. By this I mean that the Diagnosis of Disharmony in the patient is made through the collection of biometric data including tongue, pulse, body heat, moisture, and so on. When enough data have been collected to make a Bian Zheng, or Pattern Differentiation, a diagnosis based upon some combination of Eight Principles, Zang-Fu organs, and perhaps the Wu Xing or Five Movements, is made. When the diagnosis is made, a heteropathic treatment protocol is then developed with some combination of Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy, Tui-Na, and Acupuncture given to the patient as a strategy to re-establish harmony in the body.

This strategy works quite well for many disharmonies in the body. But in the Herbal Bian Zheng, acupuncture is merely used to support the herbal treatment modality. For example, as patient with muscle mass loss, lethargy, occasional loose stools, a pale swollen tongue, and a weak pulse is said to have Spleen Qi Deficiency. The basic Herbal protocol to treat this patient is to tonify Spleen Qi. A classic herbal formula for such a patient would be Si Jun Zi Tang, Four Gentlemen Decoction. Acupuncture at such points as BL 20, BL 21, ST 36, LI 10, CV 12, and so on would then be used to support the treatment strategy of Tonify Spleen Qi. This is not wrong, and will commonly be very helpful to the recovering patient.

However, there is a much more powerful way to use acupuncture in one’s daily clinical work. Dr Richard Tan’s Balance Method, or Dr Robert Doane’s Distal Needle Acupuncture (DNA), or what I choose to call Topographic Acupuncture is the application of minimal, distal needles to tissues that adjust the qi in more proximal areas of the body. It is commonly applied unilaterally and asymmetrically. Topographic needling implies that the placement of the needles is based upon the 3-dimensional configuration of the patient’s body, and not merely placing needles by replicating acupuncture “formula” found in a plethora of textbooks. In fact, one of my brilliant mentors of human acupuncture, Dr. Dzung Tran Viet, says that merely placing needles according to textbook point location descriptions is a novice’s error.

Topographic Acupuncture can then be seen as an additional methodology of acupuncture needle usage which does not substitute for the typical acupuncture taught throughout the world to most TCVM students. It does not need to displace “herbal” acupuncture, but may be used in addition to it.

What advantages to Topographic Acupuncture are there? Why and when would we choose to use this tactic instead of “herbal” acupuncture? First and foremost, when the disharmony in the patient leads to Stagnation in the Channels, Topographic Acupuncture (hereafter TA) gives high probability results for ultra-rapid pain reduction. There is no need for the client and patient, and indeed us, to wait and see if pain relief occurs over the next few hours to few days. Pain relief will be so rapid, that everyone involved in the case will see an obvious result in the treatment room within seconds to minutes of the needles being inserted.

Some of the advantages of using non-local needles for TA may be less than obvious. Clearly, when tissues are traumatized by random accidents such as contact with a noxious plant such as Poison Ivy, or bicycles running into one another at full speed, we do not want to place needles into the already traumatized tissues. One might also see that placing a needle into tissues that have been recently surgically traumatized such as a post-Anterior Cruciate Ligament repair site might be both irritating and possibly compromise the immune status of the surgical incision. In each of these cases, the insertion of a needle which rapidly reduces local pain and stagnation of blood whose insertion is far from the area of trauma is close to ideal.

There are also multiple options for needle placement in distal tissues with TA. We will see that the astute acupuncturist will be able to somewhat reduce their probability of overstimulation of the patient by judicious choice of distal needle insertion. The practitioner of TA will soon realize that, for example, that one simple needle insertion at approximately LU 5 can give instant lumbar pain cessation without further needles being placed.

Even more important is the use of TA in cases where pain is not the primary issue. Pain reduction is perhaps the most dramatic and easy to demonstrate result of TA, and many practitioners or students of TA seem to think that pain relief is its sole usage as well. But ANY disruption of Channel Qi may be adjusted and potentially brought back into harmony with the body. This includes Cancer, Swelling, Numbness, and Reduction in movement of joints or other areas of connective tissue restriction, as well as organ or system dysfunction. Cardiovascular disease, renal failure, bowel motility disorders, immune system disharmonies, and much other endocrinological and neurological pathology may be successfully addressed with the distal needle technology of TA.

Those are enough promises for now, and hopefully they have impressed you enough to begin your journey into the world of Topographic Acupuncture.


Bruce Ferguson, DVM, MS, will be presenting a workshop at Pacific Rim College on Advanced Topographic Acupuncture on September 16-17. He is a world-renowned lecturer and practitioner of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM). In TCVM his expertise includes Tui-Na, Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy, and Acupuncture. As an acupuncturist he has studied with numerous masters and has evolved his own minimal-needle, distal-point system which yields rapid clinical results. His experience diagnosing and treating a huge variety of human and non-human patients in many different geographical areas of the world has given him unique insight into Patterns that supersede local disharmonies. His humor and logic make his information transfer both fun and memorable. Dr Ferguson is the President of the American Association of TCVM and the vice-President of the World Association of TCVM. He is an Assistant Editor for the American Journal of TCVM, where he has also published notable papers on the TCVM Pulse, and new acupuncture point locations, among other topics. Bruce is also the 2015 recipient of the Ma Shi Huang TCVM Practitioner of the Year Award. He is on the Visiting Faculty at Pacific Rim College.