Category Archives: Physical Health

 Western society tends to view health in terms of single conditions and symptoms. Traditional Acupuncture considers people not conditions and therefore paints a bigger picture of individual health. Often, our patients are drawn to us because of this integration of physical health and mental health. This is especially so when they are suffering with longstanding conditions like chronic pain.

For new patients, moving to a different view of health can be unusual.  Usually they just want to know if we can help. To help we have written a series of articles that provide information on various health conditions. We hope that this makes it easier to follow.


alone-62253_1920Any conversation about acupuncture will usually start involve pain.  Despite the wide spectrum of holistic clinical applications for acupuncture, it is still the most common problem that presents in my clinic.  It is probably what acupuncture is best known for and indeed the most explored and explained condition scientifically.

What is Pain?

The widely accepted definition was developed by a taxonomy task force of the International Association for the Study of Pain: “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 it 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.  One persons intolerable discomfort 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 clinic, it 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 into protective and non protective of acute or chronic duration.

_DSC0099Protective pain

This 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 this we’d be in big trouble.  When we injure ourselves and it hurts to move in a particular way its usually to stop us moving and causing more damage. Basically, we need pain.

Non protective pain

By comparison this pain serves no obvious protective function, for example the ongoing discomfort experienced after a nerve injury.

Chronic and Acute

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.  This persistent condition is poorly understood. It is believed that in at least some cases, there has been a breakdown in the way in which our complex nervous system processes information.

Alarmingly its not an unusual condition.  The Chronic Pain Policy Coalition in a recent publication reported around 14 million people in the UK living with this condition, 25% of whom have lost their jobs.  This is a significant number of people.

How does acupuncture work?

Picture of acupuncture needlesScientific 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.  Never the less, in certain conditions such as migraine, the results of using even very basic acupuncture treatment is so positive that it is recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Traditional Acupuncture

In chronic pain I find it 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 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 wellbeing both physically and mentally helps me to get a clearer picture of your health.  Treatment is then tailored to your specific “holistic” needs.

Help with pain

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

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


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

Lower Back Pain – Is Acupuncture Complementary?

_DSC0024_1Lower back pain plagues the adult population of the modern world. A report in 2009 suggests that a third of UK adults will experience some type of lower back pain each year and 20% of those will consult a doctor. Thats 1/15 so in my kids class at school thats about 4 parents visiting the Doc and another 16 suffering in silence. For one problem? No wonder we pay so much national insurance yet still cant get an appointment at the local surgery.

In the 2009 Clinical Guidance issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, a course of up to 10 acupuncture treatments is recommended as a primary intervention for non specific lower back pain.  This means it should be one of the first things you try yet still many people come in seeking help as a last resort.

So how does it help?  Well some studies offer various theories.

Acupuncture can help by:

1. Providing pain relief – by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, acupuncture leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987; Zhao 2008).

2. Reducing inflammation – by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007;Zijlstra 2003).

3. Improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility – by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising.

4. Reducing the use of medication for back complaints (Thomas 2006).

5. Providing a more cost-effective treatment over a longer period of time (Radcliffe 2006;Witt 2006).

6. Improving the outcome when added to conventional treatments such as rehabilitation exercises (Ammendolia 2008; Yuan 2008).

And we must remember, scientific research into acupuncture is only a few decades old.  The traditional history is over 2000 yrs old!

So, if you’re suffering with your back, why not give acupuncture a try.  It could be just what the doctor should order!

Exercises for Herniated Disc

The following video is from NHS choices and demonstrates some exercises that can be used to assist the healing process for a herniated disc


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.