Acupuncture is a branch of traditional medicine that has been practised in China and the Far East for thousands of years. It has been developed, tested, researched and refined over this time. It has transformed into a treatment option accessed by increasing numbers of patients in the West. Without the benefit of modern scientific equipment, the first acupuncturists discovered many now familiar aspects of biomedical science.
A growing body of evidence-based clinical research is discovering how the body responds to acupuncture. There are benefits for a wide range of common health conditions. Many people have acupuncture to relieve specific aches and pains such as osteoarthritis of the knee, TMJ pain, headaches and low back pain, or for common health problems like an overactive bladder. Other people choose acupuncture when they can feel their bodily functions are out of balance but have no obvious western medical diagnosis leading to western medical treatment. Many also have regular treatments simply because they find it beneficial and relaxing.
The focus for a traditional acupuncturist is on the patient as an individual and not just their specific illness. All symptoms are seen as part of an interconnected pattern. Treatment involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points which are said to affect the flow of your body’s qi, or vital energy. However, there is ongoing research and study that suggests what many practitioners already know: that inserting needles into the channels (or meridians) effects change within the human body, and the term ‘energy’ is rather simplistic.
Your initial visit will take up to 90 minutes and consists of a personal and medical consultation covering your family history, lifestyle, systems functions (e.g., sleep and appetite) and full details of your current complaint/s and any test or investigations that you have had. You will also have the opportunity to discuss in complete confidence any concerns or troubles you may currently be dealing with. After your consultation I will carry out a number of short non-invasive physical diagnostic tests including blood pressure, temperature distribution and pulse taking. In most cases, aside from the most complex, this is then followed by your first treatment. Subsequent appointments take up to 50 minutes, and include discussion of your progress and your treatment to date.
Many patients are concerned that acupuncture maybe painful, but as the needles are flexible and about as thick as two human hairs, there is usually only a very slight sensation as it enters the skin. Sometimes patients also feel a dull ache on the acupuncture point, but this also only lasts for a few seconds and is generally not considered to be uncomfortable. Many find acupuncture relaxing and feel very calm during and after a treatment; you may also feel a little tired or sleepy so if possible, try to arrange a relatively restful and quiet day, especially for your first treatment.
Acupuncture is one of the safest medical treatments currently on offer in the UK; in fact, in 2001 a number of studies concluded that the risk of serious adverse reaction to acupuncture is less than 1 in 10,000. Any minor side effects that do occur, such as dizziness or bruising around needle points, are infrequent, mild and self-correcting. To see more information regarding the safety of acupuncture, please visit the British Acupuncture Council’s website.
An acupuncturist trained at degree level will have lots of other tricks up their sleeve. This can include Tui’na, which is a form of massage, moxibustion, which is a way of warming up acupuncture channels by burning dried moxa (a herb called artemisia or mugwort) & cupping (made famous by celebrities and athletes).
One of my favourite techniques is ‘Gua Sha’. This literally translates as ‘scrape sand’ which might not sound too promising, but its effects are impressive. It uses a special tool with a rounded edge – sometimes a jade scraper, but more commonly a honey jar lid, and some massage oil or balm to firmly pull or ‘scrape’ over an area of the body that is tense or sore. This movement raises ‘sha’ or superficial redness over the area, and in doing so seems to alleviate pain and stagnation, freeing up shoulders, backs, necks etc.
This technique has been used in the East for centuries as a home remedy, and still is (I will send you home with your own honey jar lid!). Many of my patients will come in and ask for this now – it feels warming and comfortable, despite the sometimes impressive marks it leaves. These do fade in a day or so. The technique can be used on its own or combined with needles and moxa for greater effect.
For more on my acupuncture services, get in touch.