Category Archives: General health


A video from 2 years ago of Toyah Willcox talking to the British Acupuncture Council about insomnia and how acupuncture helped her.


alone-62253_1920Whilst I spend a lot of time talking about the wide spectrum of holistic clinical applications for acupuncture, it is still the case that the majority of patients I see, and indeed who present to acupuncturists around the country, are seeking help with some type of pain.  The treatment of pain is probably what acupuncture is best known for.  Indeed it is also pain treatments for which the best scientific evidence of efficacy exists (Lower back pain and migraine/cluster type headaches, NICE recommendations) In this blog we are looking in a little more detail at the subject of pain and how acupuncture may help.

What is Pain?

The widely accepted definition of pain was developed by a taxonomy task force of the International Association for the Study of Pain: “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in such terms.”  Importantly, this definition highlights the fact that pain is a subjective sensation.  In other words expressions such as “it can’t be that bad” say more about the frustration of the person saying it than the person suffering pain.  One persons unbearable pain may be very different to the next, indeed it may be very different according to a number of external factors like temperature, time of day, mood etc.  In my work, pain is whatever the patient says it is.

There are a number of ways in which to classify pain but I particularly like those described by Professor G. F. Gebhart who separates pain into protective and non protective of acute or chronic duration.

_DSC0099Protective pain could be likened to my old career as a police officer.  Nobody likes it much but actually its doing an essential job.  In this simplest form, pain is a protective response from our body to prevent more serious injury.  For example, the pain one experiences when touching something hot is a warning shot that prevents a more serious burn.  Without pain we’d be in big trouble.  A very small number of people in the world are born with a condition called congenital analgesia, no sense of pain, and it is a serious life threatening condition.  So when we injure ourselves and it hurts when we move in a particular way, we can normally accept from this that our body, at least for that moment in time, doesn’t want us to move in that way through fear of making the injury worse.

Non protective pain by comparison serves no obvious protective function, such as the the pain experienced after a nerve injury.

The terms chronic and acute can be ascribed to either of the above classifications and describe the duration of the pain.  The NHS consider pain to be chronic or persistent if it has been suffered for 3 months or more and has failed to respond to standard medical treatment.  Persistent pain is a poorly understood condition but it is believed that in at least some cases, there has been a breakdown in the way in which the body processes information from our highly complex nervous system.  Alarmingly its not an unusual condition.  The Chronic Pain Policy Coalition in a recent publication reported around 14 million people in the UK alone living with persistent pain, 25% of whom have lost their jobs.  In other words, if you suffer from chronic pain, you are far from being alone.

So how does acupuncture work?

_DSC0027Scientific research for acupuncture is very complex and is much debated (a subject better covered in my talks).  A number of theories are suggested for the mechanism behind acupuncture treatment.  Some studies have found that certain hormones released by the body for anaglesia in response to pain are released in greater quantities during electro-acupucture treatment.  Another explanation is the micro trauma theory which suggests that causing a very small injury in the region of existing trauma re-activates the bodies healing mechanism, “waking it up” so to speak.  All of the current theories/explanations are interesting and plausible but it is fair to say that the exact science is not fully understood and needs more investigation.  Never the less, in certain pain conditions such as migraine and lower back pain the results of using even very basic acupuncture treatment is so positive that it is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Where pain is chronic it may be more useful to consider the problem in the Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigm.  In basic terms this holds that the usual smooth flow of the bodies energy force, Qi, is disrupted which causes a blockage or stagnation.  This in turn causes pain.  Acupuncture at certain points on the body can get the energy moving in the right way again.  Of course moving Qi is just one part of the problem.  The challenge, and what makes acupuncture a holistic therapy, is to work out why the energy is stagnating in the first place.  In a post trauma injury this may be easy to work out but in long term chronic issues any number of physical and emotional factors could be at work in isolation, or in collusion with one another.  Looking at the wider aspects of your health and well being both physically and mentally helps me to get a clearer picture of whats going on and to then tailor the treatment to your specific needs.

More help

If you suffer from pain and would like more information about how acupuncture could help please contact me to discuss – Contact Details

For more information on managing pain follow this link to the NHS pain management self help leaflet – Pain Toolkit


Facial Rejuvination – Jade Roller and Acupressure Massage

The jade roller and acupressure massage is a facial therapy that I usually add as an additional component of treatment in my acupuncture clinics. I initially developed this massage to use in facial enhancement acupuncture (available soon) but have also found it useful for other clinical presentations like sinusitis, headaches and skin complaints. I have also discovered that whilst it is a very effective addition clinically, it is also very relaxing and therapeutic as a stand alone treatment.

There are many acupuncture points on the face and the massage uses gentle pressure to generally relax the underlying muscles or to illicit specific effects according to the clinical indications of the selected points.

The jade rollers are used across the whole face to smooth the skin, particularly in areas where lines appear and around the eyes where we always feel the effects of fatigue in our busy often stressful lives. This part of treatment leaves the skin cool and refreshed.

The treatment is finished with a generous application of moisturiser.

JadeThe significance of Jade

Jade has held cultural significance in China for as long as history recalls. Considered equal in value to Gold but held in greater reverence it’s popular use was ornamental, in burial and for jewellery. Confucius once said “a gentleman always wears a Jade pendant” because the virtues of a gentleman could be found in the stone.

These virtues are kindness, rectitude, wisdom, bravery and purity.

One of its first medicinal uses was in opium pipes where it was believed to increase the smokers longevity, an interesting concept and unlikely to hold much court in modern day thinking.

The stone is however long held to have therapeutic qualities. It has a high level of thermal conductivity which makes it efficient at conducting the heat away from the face, and feels pleasantly cool.

The rollers are used on all areas of the face but with particularly focus on the areas where lines start to appear as we age for example the brow, eyes and labial crease. These areas also correlate with known acupuncture points which adds to the therapeutic effect.

Acupuncture for Weight Loss

scalesThis is a question I am often asked, can acupuncture help with weight loss?

The first thing to point out is that weight gain is symptom, not an illness.  In Chinese medicine, symptoms are like the branches of the tree.  The root is what causes branches to grow and if we are looking for permanent change it is the root we must influence.  For example,  if we cut the branches of a tree to stop it growing they will grow back.  If however we dig out the root the tree will no longer grow.

The root of weight gain could be physical or emotional.  In fact weight gain may not be a problem at all but the response to it emanating from issues of low self esteem or lack of confidence. It is important to understand and treat these issues.

Take time to consider any claim that acupuncture can “cure” weight problems.  Certain types of treatment can deal with addictive symptoms but whilst this may be helpful in some cases it is not a “one size fits all” solution.

As a holistic practitioner my approach is to treat the whole person, not just the symptom.  This is root and branch acupuncture or, in Chinese, the Ben and Biao and in my opinion the most effective means of influencing long term positive changes in mental and physical health.

I hope this helps to clarify my position on the issue but if it remains ambiguous I am happy to clarify either privately or by opening up a discussion on this blog.