Acupuncture: an ancient art validated by modern science
Through methodical and detailed observation of the body, thousands of years ago acupuncturists developed a complete system of diagnosis. China is unique in having written records of traditional treatment spanning thousands of years, in which traditional doctors describe the treatments that have got good results in various situations, comment on (and sometimes criticise) each other's approach. This is a truly valuable resource for practitioners. Interest in Chinese medicine has been growing in the West since the 1970's, some practitioners have learnt Mandarin and read Chinese medical texts in the original, some of which they have translated into English.
Although we still don't know exactly how acupuncture works, modern science has now backed up some of the findings of early acupuncturists; for example the impact of emotional stress on the body is now acknowledged. Another example is the discovery by modern science of myofascial pathways that trace the meridians acupuncturists have been using for thousands of years to restore balance to the body and mind by regulating the flow of ‘qi’. Emerging facts about how the body’s cells communicate also have strong parallels with the concept of qi. You can read some of the ever-growing body of qualitative research evidence that acupuncture works at the Acupuncture Research Resource Centre or the British Acupuncture Council.
Why do people come for acupuncture?
People who are new to acupuncture are used to going to the doctor to talk about one health problem, and people usually come to see me for the first time in the same way, for example because they are suffering from migraines or insomnia. As we talk about these symptoms in the context of overall health, people quickly realise that this holistic approach makes a lot of sense. As well as focusing on the problem that made you seek help, my aim is to restore balance and harmony, and thereby bring about improvements to overall health, such as sleep, digestion, energy and mood.
Other techniques: cupping, moxibustion, electroacupuncture
Cupping, the placing of vacuumed cups on the skin, has remained a traditional treatment in some communities, and depending on where you live, you may see high street clinics devoted to cupping. You may also have seen celebrities showing off cupping marks, (Gwyneth Paltrow in a backless dress at a New York film premiere back in 2004 and more recently Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps). I often use cupping for muscle pain or congested lungs. Research at the University of Portsmouth showed that the erythrocyte sedimentation rate falls after cupping, showing that inflammation has been reduced. I may use moxibustion (burning a herb called moxa, a particular type of mugwort) to bring focused heat to certain areas of the body,. You may have read about moxibustion being used to stop bleeding, or to encourage a baby in the breech position to turn. I may use electroacupuncture if something stronger than manual acupuncture is needed, for example with painful musculoskeletal conditions, or sometimes during the stimulation phase of IVF if the response is poor.
Does acupuncture hurt?
Acupuncture needles are tiny, very slender and fine, completely unlike the hypodermic syringes that come to mind when we think of needles.
Most of my new patients are surprised and relieved to find that acupuncture doesn't particularly hurt, and the brief twinge when a needle is inserted is worth it for the feeling of relaxation that treatment brings . "It feels a lot like a large martini and half a valium" said Grace Dent in The Guardian Weekend after treatment with me