Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing therapies in the world, in which very fine needles are inserted into the skin at designated points (acupuncture points) which are chosen for their therapeutic effect. It originated in China, spreading to other parts of Asia and, eventually, the West. The earliest written record of its use goes back about 2500 years and it may be as much as 4000 years old.
Acupuncture works on the premise of Yin and Yang and keeping everything in balance, when there is balance a feeling of homeostasis and wellbeing occur. In Chinese Medicine, energy pathways also known as meridians run along the body and Qi or chi is the energy flow which is referred to as one’s life force that runs through the meridians. When the energy flow or qi becomes disrupted or there is too little or too much qi, imbalance occurs creating disharmony or physical symptoms within the body, mind or spirit. By manipulating the acupuncture points, acupuncture treatment helps the body’s natural healing process and works to restore balance. Energy imbalances or congested energy flow can create or accentuate pain or impede the body’s natural ability to heal itself, so creating a balanced environment is key.
Qi is affected by many influences, such as our fast-modern pace of life, hereditary factors, changes in the weather and seasons, environment, habits, emotions, viruses, bacteria, medication, stress, smoking, alcohol, bad diet, body injury, electromagnetic radiation, environmental toxins (like petrol fumes or other chemicals), recreational drugs, etc.
People often ask does acupuncture hurt? Needles are very fine and there are several sensations that people may experience when the needle is being inserted such as aching, heat or an electrical sensation and often people feel nothing at all.
The first treatment usually takes around 90 minutes, which will involve a discussion about your health, medical history, diet, exercise habits, digestion, energy levels, sleeping and sometimes your personal history and any issues you wish addressing. Your tongue and pulse will then be examined. I will then have a picture of your overall health and decide on a treatment plan.
On your first treatment minimal needling may occur so I can see how you react to acupuncture. In a typical treatment between 4 and 20 needles may be used.
It is normal to have a course of acupuncture treatment with the frequency and length of treatment depending on your individual condition. Acute conditions often respond quickly and only 2 or 3 treatments maybe needed, although if you have a history of similar problems then a longer course may well be required for a lasting improvement. Similarly, chronic ongoing conditions tend to respond more slowly, although some benefit is normally experienced within the first few treatments.
Cupping is an ancient technique used in traditional Chinese medicine to stimulate acupuncture points or larger areas of the body. It is often practised alongside acupuncture but can also be a ‘stand-alone’ treatment.
The technique involves creating a vacuum inside round glass or plastic cups. The cups are then left in place for anything up to 20 minutes.
If large areas of the body need treating, a technique known as ‘sliding cups’ is used. A thin layer of massage oil is spread over the skin; the cups are placed onto the body in the normal way and then slid along the muscles being treated. This helps the blood and qi to flow more easily in stagnated areas.
Cupping is not painful but can leave slightly red patches on the skin, like circular bruises. Although these marks resemble bruises, the muscles have not been traumatized in any way. The redness on the skin indicates that there has been movement in the circulation of blood under and around the cups. Not all cupping treatments will result in redness as this depends on the complaint being addressed.
Moxibustion is an essential part of Chinese medicine. A soft woolly substance prepared from mugwort leaves (Artemisia vulgaris) or stick moxa is used. In moxibustion the moxa is placed either directly on the skin or held just above it, over specific acupuncture points or meridians. The herb is lit and as it smoulders slowly, a therapeutic heat permeates the skin and affects the flow of ‘qi’ (energy) and blood in the area being treated.
Please do not consume alcohol before a treatment and keep stimulants such as coffee and tea to a minimum.
It is best not to have acupuncture directly after a large meal. If you have a tendency towards feeling light-headed then also please ensure that it is not too long since you last had something to eat.
Although there are points all over the body the most commonly used ones are on the limbs below the elbow and below the knee. For this reason, it is helpful if tights are not worn and clothing is loose enough to be rolled up to the elbow or knee.
Please be aware that after treatment changes can occur - such as to your appetite, bowel or urination patterns or emotional state. This is simply an indication that the body is starting to rebalance itself & is nothing to be concerned about. Some patients feel 'spaced out' after a treatment or just deeply relaxed & sleepy. Care must obviously be taken if returning to work or driving after a treatment.
The World Health Organisation has produced a list of conditions for which acupuncture has been proven to be an effective treatment.
The British Acupuncture Council has produced a series of fact sheets, which summarise the evidence base for the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment in about 60 commonly treated conditions.