Is Acupuncture A Good Option For Pain Relief?

an acupuncturist with a needleLiving with chronic pain is difficult. Some patients manage their chronic pain with anti-inflammatory medications, hot and cold treatments, exercises or physical therapy.

If you are not getting results with these treatments, then acupuncture could be a good option for you to try.

Many people come to acupuncture as a last resort, mainly because little is known about it by the public. However, more and more people are turning to this effective treatment method year after year.

Some medical professionals are still not in agreement on the benefits of acupuncture and whether or not this is a good option for chronic pain. However, there are many Doctors who do now condone this treatment method for pain relief and not only refer their patients to an acupuncturist, many of them are also now doing courses in acupuncture so they can administer the treatment themselves to their patients in need.

Furthermore, an international team of experts has conducted research on acupuncture and found that it is an efficient treatment for common forms of pain. A total of 29 studies have been carried out with 18,000 participants. Some patients received acupuncture while other received a placebo treatment made to look like acupuncture and others didn’t receive any treatments. The studies found that acupuncture helped with the pain in 50% of cases. The Archives Of Internal Medicine published the results of these studies.

This study is not a definitive proof of the benefits of acupuncture, but this is one of the best and most comprehensive studies that has ever been conducted, which is a great step forward for the acupuncture profession.

Some medical professionals think that there are many benefits associated with acupuncture and that the potential side effects outweigh the benefits, especially compared to other forms of treatments like medication.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Acupuncture consists in inserting extremely thin needles into specific points on the body. This treatment is mostly painless. However, a patient may sometimes feel a momentary dull ache at the site of needle insertion or a slight electrical sensation traverse the areas along the channel pertaining to the acupoint.

The needles are meant to help energy flow freely in the body and relieve some pressure points. The energy is called ‘qi’, pronounced ‘Chee’. The April issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch had a piece on acupuncture and Western scientists. These scientists believe that acupuncture helps by affecting neurotransmitters, boosting the immune system and balancing hormone levels.

You shouldn’t go to the acupuncturist right away if you are experiencing a new pain. Dr Chen says that patients need to get a proper diagnosis first to make sure that the pain is not caused by something structural or severe, such as a slipped disc or fracture. Other treatments might be more relevant than acupuncture for those kinds of conditions.

Acupuncture can be a good way to treat chronic pain if you receive treatments on a regular basis. Weekly treatments are a good approach, but you can start waiting longer between treatments once you start getting results.

An acupuncture session usually costs between £40 and £90 here in the UK. In most cases, private insurers will not cover the cost of these treatments unless the practitioner is a member of one of the recognised governing bodies, such as the British Acupuncture Council or the Acupuncture Society.

If you’re unsure if your medical insurance will cover you for the treatment, firstly contact the acupuncturist you are planning to see to find out what qualifications they hold and if they are a member of one of the major governing bodies. Then, give your insurance company a call and explain to them that you want to have acupuncture treatment for your condition. They will ask you about the practitioner you are intending to see. Once they verify the practitioner, you are good to go

The Main Styles of Acupuncture

acupuncture-bodyBeing as not many people have very much knowledge of acupuncture, there are a lot of aspects to take into consideration. For starters, there is more than one style of acupuncture that an acupuncturist may specialise in.

Much like choosing an individual style of yoga or a particular form of martial art, choosing the type of acupuncture that you would like to practice is very important. However, most practitioners do not know this when they begin their studies, so it’s nice to attend an acupuncture training course that teaches aspects of each style.

Later on when the practitioner has found their style, they may then choose to predominantly practice one or two styles that they feel a particular affinity with and from which they have obtained considerable results.

So, what are the various styles of acupuncture?

Classical Acupuncture

The oldest known style of acupuncture is Classical Acupuncture; it is based on the Classic writings of Oriental medicine. These are the most essential texts, the teaching, comes from the Neijing Su Wen, Nanjing, and Ling Shu.

Here is an interesting fact, the oldest medical textbook which was dated by scholars is the Su Wen, up until the late Warring States era which was 475 to 221 BC.

A holistic approach to health is what classical acupuncture applies, for a very specific and individual treatment to be delivered/ All aspects of a person are taken into consideration, this includes their mental, physical, emotional and yes, their spiritual health.

Once a thorough diagnosis has been ascertained to pinpoint the core issues and the imbalances within the body that are bringing about these symptoms, the practitioner then chooses an appropriate treatment strategy and particular acupuncture points that will support the most beneficial outcome. In Classical acupuncture, there are many instances in which fewer needles are used during treatment as practitioners utilising this style typically aim at addressing the cause of the condition rather than focusing on the symptom or manifestations alone.

The Five Phases/Elements

During the early developments of acupuncture, knowledge of the human body was very basic due to a lack of deeper understanding of its inner workings. However with thorough observation physicians were able to describe the physiology and processes by using the natural world as well as the seasons to explain. Much like the season flow from spring and on into summer, then to late summer and move forward to autumn finally arriving at winter, it was observed that so too do the human energetics also adjust and change with the seasons.

Ancient practitioners therefore based the interpretations of signs and symptoms of the movements and changes within the seasons and categorised the human body and symptoms into five phases or elements; wood fire, earth, metal and water.

This interpretation of health and disease also incorporates various climatic influences such as cold, heat, dryness, damp, fire and wind. For example, if a person is exposed to excessive cold then they may, in turn, develop cold-like symptoms as this climatic factor has entered the body.

In a similar way, a person who lives in a damp building may eventually begin to suffer from symptoms such as aching joints, fatigue and breathing difficulties, which can all be related to damp invasion.

For more understanding and further reading about the five elements and the classifications within acupuncture, see this article.

TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine)

After the communist revolution, the Chinese government authorised that four Chinese medicine colleges be established. The reason behind this was to systematise various elements of medical knowledge that were traditional from treatment modalities the belonged to various schools which were pre-communist as well as Western.

This is how the term Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was coined. So, regardless of its name, TCM is, in fact, modern Chinese medicine, an endeavour to find an integration between Western medicine and Chinese medical tradition that is harmonious.

TCM also uses various models of the five element theory.

The Japanese Form of Acupuncture

Much like the Classical approach, there are fewer needles used. The needles are often thinner that Chinese needles and minimal stimulation is applied upon needle insertion, and once they are in place.

The nature of Japanese acupuncture is very subtle. Mainly, the diagnosis is based on the five element principles of acupuncture. At this time, there are no colleges which provide a foundation or undergraduate course in Japanese acupuncture in Europe. This makes it tough for those new to the practice of acupuncture to find a way in which to become qualified and earn professional membership in the Japanese style of acupuncture. However, at postgraduate level, there are plenty of opportunities to study this interesting and subtle form of the practice.

A Brief History of Acupuncture

Acupuncture and it’s Interesting History

chinese-booksAcupuncture has been used by millions of people around the world to heal all kinds of ailments for centuries. Acupuncture has for a long time now, been attributed to having its origins in China. However, modern developments have thrown that theory into disarray.

Acupuncture may still have originally come from China, after all, the most ancient of Chinese medical texts detailing the practice of acupuncture, the Su Wen, are from China around 1115-1234CE. Furthermore, the Chinese are the ones largely responsible for the development and evolution of the practice of acupuncture. Since then, several different styles of acupuncture have emerged.

So why the doubt as to whether acupuncture originated in China?

This concern first arose back in the early 1090’s, when a mummified body was discovered frozen in the Otztal Alps, between Italy and Austria.

This discovery is so far to date, the best-preserved example of a mummified body and was said to have lived between 3359 and 3105 BCE.

What was strange, however, about this mummy, is that he had strange tattoo markings in specific areas of his body. These markings were later recognised by a German acupuncturist as being synonymous with various acupuncture points and channels.

otzi-iceman.pngThe Iceman, affectionately nicknamed Otzi by the scientists working on his body, also had with him in his possession a small nap sac containing fine needles made of bone and flint. So the presupposition that Otzi was administering acupuncture to himself was looking more and more likely.

Acupuncturists then discovered that the specific points and channels that were marked on Otzi’s body were, and still are today, used for a few conditions specifically, one of which being arthritis of the hip. Upon dissecting the hip joint, the scientists revealed that Otzi was, in fact, suffering from a degenerative hip disease.

Even more convincing, another combination of the acupuncture points is also used for stomach pains. The scientists, therefore, proceeded to cut into the iceman’s stomach only to find still preserved in his stomach, a whipworm, which would have caused the kinds of pains and symptoms that those points are known to alleviate.

So, it is now widely believed that Otzi was, in fact, administerning acupuncture to himself while on his mountainous journeys. However, the mysterious notion arises when one considers that firstly, Otzi was of occasion descent and secondly, his body was found many thousands of miles from the Orient, on an entirely different continent in fact.

Many people have surmised that either Otzi had once travelled to the far East, or that Oriental migrants skilled in acupuncture may have moved from the Orient and settled in the European vicinity where Otzi’s body was discovered. Although either scenario may indeed be possible, it is still an incredibly unlikely occurrence as travelling vast distances of many thousands of miles would have been extremely difficult, or near impossible during that period, as some might say.

Furthermore, referring to the aforementioned ancient documents of Chinese medicine, which date back around 3,000 years or so and told me to be the oldest known Chinese medical texts in existence, Otzi’s body far predates these texts and is around 5,000 years old. Therefore, it is now a mystery as to the exact origins of acupuncture.

If you would like to know more about the history of acupuncture, please see this video from acupuncturist, Gillian Marsollier