Tag Archives: Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture treatment

How does Acupuncture Work?

How does acupuncture work, this question is again best answered by looking at the two predominant theories.

Traditional Theory

Traditional acupuncture has many different styles but all have the central theory that the body is covered in channels of Qi (pronounced chee). Qi translates as energy or life force that guides all of the bodies functions.  There are twelve primary channels in the body which pass through the main organ systems.  They are responsible for bodily functions.  In health, the flow of Qi through these channels is smooth and seamless.  In ill health there is a problem, either a blockage, a deficiency or some other disruption to the smooth flow.  Acupuncture needles at certain points of the body can manipulate the flow of Qi, either nourishing and encouraging it or calming and sedating.  In doing so, health is restored.

Medical Theory

Scientific theory on the mechanism behind acupuncture is rich and varied.  In summary it is believed to act on the central nervous system.  Studies, predominantly focused on pain mechanisms, have noted changes in the release of certain neuropeptides and “significant modulatory effects at widespread cerebrocerebellar brain regions” (Bia, 2013). 

How the two come together

In the face of the highly intelligent and frankly daunting language of science it is easy to feel that traditional theory has no place in modern acupuncture.  In fact, the emergence of a scientific basis for acupuncture in my opinion places even more validity on traditional practises.

Firstly, we must remember that language behind traditional medicine is primitive.  It was developed centuries before scientific knowledge and reflects observation on the human body and its interaction with variations in emotion, the environment and disease. 

For example, if the weather was cold and people started to experience stiff joints the assumption was that the body had experienced an invasion of cold which disrupted the normal function of the body.  We may find the concept difficult to equate but I’m sure we can grasp the sentiment behind it.  Cold invasion in this context describes the nature of symptoms and offers a potential explanation for how the problem arises.  The treatment may include warming the area.  Setting aside the language, applying heat to joint pain remains a valid treatment across a range of medical disciplines.   Much can be taken from the traditional theory of medicine if we take time to contextualise the language.  

Secondly, we must also consider what scientific research has discovered.  Medical Acupuncture is not a new invention, rather an investigation into an existing practise to explain if, why and how it works.  The two practises may focus differently but much of the practise is similar.  For example, whilst medical acupuncture is less specific about the choice of acupuncture point in comparison to traditional acupuncture many of its practitioners never the less use traditional acupuncture points because they assume they probably give the best stimulation of the nervous system (AIM, 2009). In other words, traditional acupuncturists may needle a point because it moves stagnation, medical acupuncturists may needle because it activates the central nervous system.  Both are needling the point to treat pain.

References

Bai, L., & Lao, L. (2013). Neurobiological foundations of acupuncture: the relevance and future prospect based on neuroimaging evidence. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2013, 812568.

Western medical acupuncture: a definition Acupuncture in Medicine 2009;27:33-35.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Today I want to deal with the elephant in the room.  The needles!  My work involves a lot of different skills, needling being just one of them, but theres no point in avoiding the obvious fact that if you book in for acupuncture, at some point (pun intended), we are going to face the needles.

The first thing to say about this is that almost everyone I see has some trepidation about needling.  Its common and its natural.  Lets put things into context.  Until now, your only experience of a needle is likely to be a pin prick, unpleasant, or worse a syringe, painful.

I believe that much of aversion to needles is built into our psychology from birth.  Its one of the first things a baby experiences these days when its brought into the world and in my opinion, its also a fairly classic betrayal of trust.  Consider the scenario from a babies eyes.  You are with your parent(s), the person(s) solely charged with your safety and development in the early years and someone with whom you have formed a loving and highly reliant bond.  You gaze lovingly into the eyes of this person who may be talking reassuringly to you as part of a distraction technique.  All of a sudden, WHAM!.  Into the backside with a big old needle.  Then you are pumped with a mild dose of something horrible that may make you ill for a few days.   I’d like to be clear, this isn’t an anti-vaccination stand point, but just think about the psychology for a moment. Is it any wonder most of us develop a thing with needles?

As the syringe is likely to have formed the fear of needles I find it useful to compare this to my own practise because acupuncture is about as far removed from a syringe as its possible to get (in needling terms anyway).  There are a few clear differences that make it so.

  1. The size of the needles.  Syringes are intended to either put something in or take something out of the body.  For this purpose they need a hole.  By comparison, acupuncture needles are not hollow  and this means they can be much smaller.  How much smaller? Acupuncture needles are roughly the size of a human hair.  In fact, Acupuncture needles are so fine that most people don’t feel them being inserted.
  2. The purpose of the needling.  Syringes are basically used for two purposes, putting something into your body or taking something out.  If its putting something in that will generally be a drug or vaccine, foreign substances which your body may object to.  If its to take something out thats usually blood and will involve going into a vein.  Veins in the normal scheme of things aren’t meant to be messed around with and as a consequence the body has an alarm system built around them to let us know something bad is happening.  In other words, it will hurt because its meant to.  Your body is warning you of danger.  Acupuncture needles by contrast do neither of these things so the natural pain response isn’t pre-built into what we are doing. In rare cases there may occasionally be some discomfort but this is relative to what we are trying to achieve and always very carefully managed and controlled.
  3. The reason and consent for the needling:  It is an easily overlooked fact but generally speaking, although you consent to being needled in a regular medical environment, your choices and control over wether or not you give this consent will be limited by whatever is going on with you medically.  There could be some pretty high stakes involved and if a doctor breaks out the needles theres likely to be a lot less “choice” in the real sense of the word.  By contrast, the acupuncture treatment room its much different.  Although our patients are often feeling very desperate it is normally conscious choice that has brought you there in the first place.  In all but a handful of cases coming for treatment will be a decision you have made yourself following some research.  I live for the day when acupuncture becomes the first line treatment for problems like back pain but until it does I rely on people coming because they know how well it can work, not because its the only thing the world can offer them.  Psychologically this very small shift in conscious thought makes a huge difference in how you personally approach treatment.

This is all well and good but accepting that acupuncture needles are not the same as syringes, what do they feel like?  It can’t be pleasant surely?  Actually it can be.  Many patients report feelings of deep relaxation or warmth.  This video featuring my colleague and good friend Deb Conner explains in a little more detail.

 

I’ll leave you with a final thought.  Nearly all acupuncturists in the UK are self employed or in private practise.  Our patients chose, not only to come to see us, but also to keep coming back.  The results are part of this but I can assure you, if we were hurting people left right and centre I’m sure we’d be out of business very quickly.

Still not convinced?  Give me a call without pressure or obligation.

 

Can I donate blood if I’ve had acupuncture?

At present you must wait 4 months before donating blood if you have had acupuncture.

British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) registered practitioners confirm to very high standards of clinical practice as a condition of membership and we are working as a professional body to encourage the National Blood Service to change this condition of donation.

The BAcC was recently accredited by the Professional Standards Authority, an independent body accountable to government. It sets high standards for voluntary registers such as BAcC and it is hoped that this recent recognition will help in ongoing negotiations to allow patients of BAcC registered practitioners to donate blood without a waiting period. At present however you would be prohibited from donating until a 4 month period has lapsed since your last treatment.

How does acupuncture work?

There is a wealth of theory, opinion and evidence that has built up over hundreds of years seeks to answer this question so summarising it in a few words is difficult.
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