Acupuncture forms a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and involves fine, flexible needles being inserted at specific points on the body. The name is derived from the Latin words ‘acus’, meaning needle, and ‘punctura’, meaning to puncture. It has been used extensively in Chinese healthcare for many years and is offered in Chinese hospitals as an alternative treatment. Acupuncture originated in 100 BC in China, and spread to Korea in 6 AD, then on to Japan via medical missionaries. It then came to Europe, then in the 20th century reached the USA and the western countries.
Acupuncture can be used to treat many conditions. NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommended that it should be available on the NHS for migraines, headaches and chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, chronic neck pain along with other chronic muscular pain (1). It is often used in conjunction with Chinese Herbal Medicine.
It is the belief in Chinese medicine that to be healthy, our bodies need to be in harmony. The physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of ourselves are all interconnected- what influences one will have an impact on the others. When pain or illness are present, it indicates that the body is out of balance. To become healthy again, the equilibrium needs to be restored. Symptoms are not treated in isolation but are viewed in the context of the whole body. The aim is to establish the ‘root’ of the problem and treat it, not just the symptoms, or ‘branches’.
Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the concept of ‘meridians’ and ‘qi’. Meridians are channels which run around the body connecting major organs to specific points of the body. Within the meridians our life force, called ‘qi’ flows. When our body is suffering from pain, illness or emotional problems, it is a sign that the flow of qi has been interrupted by a blockage somewhere in the meridian.
Different factors can cause blockages in the meridians. Elements such as wind, cold, damp and heat can invade the body, entering by our mouths and noses. The pathogen can work its way around the body, and can block a meridian, in a joint, for example. This is more likely if our immune system is weak. Different symptoms are experienced depending on the type of pathogen. For example, invasion of wind and damp can result in a swollen joint which feels heavy and aches, such as Gout, which is the result of wind, damp and heat invading the body. Other factors are stress, poor diet and lifestyle and lack of adequate exercise and sleep.
In a consultation with an Acupuncturist, they would talk and listen to you about your problem, your health, lifestyle and medication you take. The Aupuncturist would take note of your body language, smell and tone of voice. Your pulse would be taken, and tongue examined, with the aim to build up a pattern of ‘disharmony', and make a diagnosis. The next step would be to treat the meridian with the blockage by inserting needles at specific points. For example, neck pain is often associated with the gall bladder meridian, which runs from the outer point of the eye, around the head, into the neck and shoulder, then down the side of the body to the little toe.
Treatment involves relaxing in a chair or on a bed, whist fine needles are inserted. They remain in place for approximately 20 minutes. You should not feel pain, but possibly a dull ache. Sometimes the needles are rotated, sometimes a mild electric current is passed through them. You will probably need a course of treatments. As the meridians link areas of the body, you may find that symptoms unrelated to the original problem clear as well as the presenting issue. After treatment you may experience a feeling of relaxation, with tiredness being a possible side effect.
A 34-year-old male presented to our Acupuncturist with an 18-year history of episodic back pain. Initial onset occurred when the patient suffered a pelvic fracture in an ice hockey game at the age of 15. Due to the initial trauma, the patient was unable to walk and had to endure months of physiotherapy with repeated hospital visits. After a year he was able to walk but would have debilitating intermittent back pain which had affected his office work and his career as an amateur boxer. Upon examination of the back, there was no clear sign of injury or muscular over activity. When the pulse was taken it indicated there was a problem with the stomach meridian, which was backed up by increased tenderness through the abdominal musculature. After a course of 6 acupuncture treatments once a weak the patient no longer suffered from back pain and was able to progress his office career as well as return to boxing pain free.
A 36-year-old female suffering from regular dysmenorrhea (painful periods) for many years presented to our Acupuncturist. Upon examination of the pulses, the liver and kidney were tight, which is a sign of kidney deficiency, also the skin on the shin was dry, which is a sign of fluid deficiency. The tongue was pale and thin, indicative of blood deficiency. In this case, the kidneys were affected because of the lack of fluids being metabolised, which also meant the kidneys could not support the liver. Both these organs have an important role in the production of menstrual blood, furthermore without fluids, blood cannot be produced. All the diagnostic signs indicated that the root of the problem was metabolising fluids which, is the function of the triple heater. By activating the internal ducts of the triple heater, fluids started to be metabolised solving the root of the problem. After 3 sessions the patient had no more dysmenorrhea
Acupuncture is not just used for muscular conditions, as evidence shows, but also for many health conditions. As highlighted by the World Health Organisation, there is much evidence for Acupunctures benefit within the field of health and medicine. Book your appointment today to see one of our experience Acupuncturists.
Using fine needles to target specific areas on the body, acupuncture works to provide therapeutic and preventive benefits. Traditional acupuncture based on Ancient Chinese medical theories aims to improve the flow of energy within the body to restore balance and improve overall health. Western medical acupuncture on the other hand, focuses more on using acupuncture as a treatment modality to simulate nerves under the skin and within the muscles; this causes the body to produce and release natural endorphins which help to reduce pain. When acupuncture is used within a treatment plan and multiple sessions are used to treat an issue, it can provide effective long-term relief.
Acupuncture has been shown not only to be beneficial in the treatment of headaches, but also for allergic rhinitis and facial pain. Evidence also shows the benefit of acupuncture in patients with temporomandibular dysfunction and dental pain. With the close proximity of the ear to the temporomandibular joint, disorders affecting the ear have also been treated successfully with acupuncture, such as Ménière disease and general earache.
With pain in the neck being a common presenting complaint to musculoskeletal clinics, acupuncture has been shown to be beneficial for neck pain due to fascial issues, as well as degenerative changes to the vertebrae, as well as restricted movement. It has also been shown to help with people suffering with a sore throat as well.
Frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, has been treated successfully with acupuncture, allowing reduction of pain and resolution of movement. The shoulder girdle can also suffer from osteoarthritis, which when causes pain, has been reduced with specific acupuncture protocols. Chronic pain conditions that may impact the shoulder region, such as fibromyalgia can also be treated. Where required, the Acupuncturist may also work with the physiotherapist, sports therapist or osteopath in order to provide the most appropriate treatment.
Two of the most common conditions affecting the elbow are golfers' elbow (medial epicondylitis) and tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis). Both conditions are generally caused by overuse conditions and affect the tendon on the inside (golfers) and outside (tennis) of the elbow. Trauma to the elbow can also cause strain to the surrounding ligaments of the elbow. Acupuncture can help speed the recovery and reduce pain of these structures by changing blood flow to the area. Pain caused by bony spurs around the elbow has also been reduced by using specific points where the fine needles are placed.Various forms of arthritis can affect the wrist and fingers. Evidence shows that acupuncture can successfully treat these conditions, improving function and reducing pain. Raynaud syndrome, a condition that causes constriction of blood vessels in the hand and feet can also be treated with acupuncture. Electroacupuncture as well as acupuncture has been shown to improve symptoms as well as increase grip strength in patients with carpel tunnel syndrome.
As the thorax houses many structures, it's not just mid back pain as a result of muscular or arthritic issues that has been shown to benefit from acupuncture. Respiratory conditions such as bronchial asthma and hayfever have been successfully treated with acupuncture, as well as essential hypertension, primary hypotension and angina pectoris. Gastric conditions such as peptic ulcer and gastritis have responded positively to treatment. Tietzes syndrome, a condition that causes chest pain and inflammation of the cartilage of the ribs responds reduced in severity with acupuncture treatment.
Lower back pain can occur for several reasons, with many causes being successfully treated with acupuncture. From a musculoskeletal perspective, both acute and chronic back pain can be treated as a result of degenerative and rheumatological changes, as well as fascial and muscular causes. Pain from lumbar disc herniation has also improved with treatment. Other non-musculoskeletal conditions that occur around the lower back and pelvic region may also be treated. These include gynaecological conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, premenstrual syndrome and even altered position of the foetus. Other conditions such as urinary tract infections, ulcerative colitis and pain post endoscopic examination all respond positively to acupuncture.
With trauma and age, it is not uncommon for osteoarthritic changes to occur. Pain that can occur from this can be treated with acupuncture. The practitioner may combine the treatment with physiotherapy and osteopathy appointments so that joint mobilizations and physical therapy can be added to treatment progression. The sciatic nerve travels below a muscle called the piriformis which travels from the sacrum to the hip. The sciatic nerve can be compressed by a lumbar disc protrusion, however, it may also become compressed under the piriformis, causing sciatic symptoms. Acupuncture can improve the sciatic pain as it travels down the leg. It has been shown that the use of acupuncture needles in treating greater trochanteric pain syndrome has been as successful as having a cortisone injection.
Due to the loads put through the knee, it is prone to arthritic changes. When this causes pain, acupuncture has been shown to reduce it. Certain rheumatological conditions can also lead to knee pain which benefit from treatment. Several muscles make up the muscles of the thigh. The group on the front of the thigh are known as the quadriceps, whilst the ones on the back are the hamstrings. Fascial tension and injuries to these muscles can cause knee pain. Treatment through acupuncture, as well as massage and rehabilitation has shown good effects on reducing pain and improving function. If surgery is every required within the knee, acupuncture has been shown to also reduce post-operative pain.
A common condition found in the ankle is Achilles tendinopathy, which can become a chronic condition. Acupuncture has been shown to help with this condition, making it more manageable. A similar condition, called planter fasciitis can occur on the sole of the foot, which can become debilitating at times. Acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain, leading to improve function of the foot. Gout is known to cause pain in the big toe due to joint surface changes. Like many rheumatological conditions, specific treatment protocols can reduce the effects on the big toe and other areas of the foot that may be effected by the condition.