Today marks the start of Acupuncture Awareness Week 2017… I’ll be sharing research and information about about acupuncture throughout the week on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, but thought I’d start with a brief introduction to acupuncture for my blog post.
Acupuncture is a tried and tested system of traditional medicine which has been used in China and other far eastern cultures for thousands of years to restore, promote and maintain good health. Acupuncture is a very safe and versatile therapy that has been used to help relieve a wide range of both acute and chronic symptoms including (but not limited to): back pain; arthritic pain; IBS; sciatica; hay fever; severe headaches; menopause; musculo-skeletal pain and dysfunction; PMS and other gynaecological conditions including fertility support; and mental-emotional issues such as low mood, stress, insomnia and anxiety. Because acupuncture has its own diagnostic framework, you don’t need to have a formal medical diagnosis to try it. It is very safe for people of all ages and can be used in the elderly, in children, and even in pregnancy.
Acupuncture focuses on all factors that contribute to disease and not just the presenting symptoms. Because every patient is unique, two people with the same western diagnosis will have different acupuncture treatment plans because the pathology of their illness is different. Trained Acupuncturists like myself, Jill Storstein and my local colleague Lou Radford (based 9 miles west of Aberfeldy) have a wealth of professional experience. We are trained to observe and interpret subtle signs and physical changes in order to identify the precise nature of imbalance. Treatment plans are designed for each individual using selected acupuncture points to relieve both the immediate symptoms and the underlying root cause of the problem.
Acupucture is very safe when carried out by appropriately trained practitioners. It involves the insertion of a few very fine, sterile needles into carefully selected points. Most patients barely feel the needles going in and soon forget about them once they are in. People tend to find acupuncture a very relaxing experience which leaves them with a general sense of wellbeing and relaxation afterwards.
Acupuncture predates contemporary western medical science by thousands of years. It has been developed, tested, researched and refined over centuries to give a complex and detailed understanding of both the body’s energetic balance and its physical functions. Acupuncture is just as logical and empirical as any other system of healthcare. Traditional acupuncture’s benefits are widely acknowledged around the world and in the past decade acupuncture has begun to feature more prominently in mainstream healthcare in the UK.
Jill Storstein is fully qualified in Traditional Acupuncture and is a member of the British Acupuncture Council. Jill works in Edinburgh and Aberfeldy, Perthshire.
A couple of weeks ago was Migraine Awareness week and it inspired this latest blog as it is a subject close to my own heart.
After the birth of my second son, I began suffering from frequent, debilitating migraines. After the birth of my third child I was having them so frequently I was rarely well. I seemed to be in a cycle of migraine and gradual recovery from it only to be hit with another one again. It was awful trying to look after three small children when at times, I didn’t even have the strength to walk across the room. I had tried several different treatments including the conventional triptans and beta blockers (which didn’t help at all), and other alternative therapies which helped a little. Various other stressful events happened in my life and I became seriously unwell with a chronic illness as well as still having the migraines regularly. I was really at my wits end when a colleague suggested I try acupuncture. The relief from migraines was almost immediate and to this day, I very rarely have migraines and on the odd occasion that I do, they are very mild and short lived.
I became fascinated by acupuncture and the philosophy behind it – the more I read, the more I wanted to know so I decided to study it for myself. I learned that Chinese medicine views health in a very different way to conventional western medicine. Conditions with the same diagnosis in conventional medicine such as migraine are considered symptoms of a variety of different patterns of ill health in Chinese medicine. These patterns can have different root causes due to a combination of constitutional tendencies when combined with lifestyle and dietary factors. Acupuncture seeks to address both the symptom (the migraine) and the underlying root causes.
Migraine in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, migraine – the symptom – is considered to be due to Yang Rising. Yang in this context, is energy or heat. The Yang rises from the torso to the head and can cause the aura and pain. The Yang rising can be due to an underlying deficiency or due to excess. If it is due to excess, there is too much of something that is generating too much Yang. This could be due to a build up of emotional tension that overflows and with a catalyst surges upwards causing the headache. Other excesses that can lead to Yang rising can be consumption of rich, spicy or greasy foods or too much coffee or alcohol or even being in too hot an environment. Where there is deficiency, it is because there is not enough of the Yin balancing component to contain the Yang. Deficiency can arise out of an underlying weakness or a combination of overdoing things and not eating well.
As an acupuncturist, I would be looking to ascertain whether your migraines were underpinned by deficiency or excess or possibly a mixture of the two and I’d be finding out more about your lifestyle, your general health, your menstrual pattern (in women) and your eating habits. This is because common triggers for migraines can be: eating and drinking too much or certain foods; skipping meals, emotional factors like stress or anger; tiredness; and hormonal imbalances.
Example of an Excess Migraine Patient
Some key signs and symptoms that one might see in someone suffering from an excess type migraine could be extreme irritability and prone to shouting outbursts of temper, red face, tending to feel the heat, restless sleeper and the headache would likely to be severe and pounding, on one side, probably around the temple and eye. Someone suffering from this type of migraine would be likely to have triggers such as eating too much rich or greasy foods, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, being in a hot environment or being under additional stress.
In this instance, Acupuncture treatment would focus on a selection of points that helped to clear heat in the system and reduce stress and suggestions would be made for stress management, lifestyle adjustments and reduction of heating foods and drinks.
Example of a Deficiency Migraine Patient
It is most often women who suffer from deficiency type migraine headaches and they can often, though not always be related to her menstrual cycle. This person would be likely to feel tired a lot of the time, have difficulty getting to sleep at night, suffer from episodes of lightheaded-ness or dizziness, get blurred vision and dry eyes, and feel weak, especially after missing a meal. Someone suffering from this type of migraine is likely to have triggers that include skipping meals, overdoing things, lack of sleep or feeling particularly tired, certain foods may trigger migraines such as wheat or cheese and a female patient may find that she gets migraines during or after her period.
In this instance, Acupuncture treatment would focus on a selection of points that would strengthen the digestive system to help improve the uptake of nutrients and strengthen constitutional reserves. Advice might include some dietary adjustments, ensuring the person is eating enough and enough of the right sort of food and that enough rest is built into the day and increase sleep.
Example of a Mixed Deficiency and Excess Migraine Patient
The mixed migraine patient is likely to share some similarities to the deficiency and the excess patient but their symptoms of tiredness and temper may not be quite so extreme as the other categories. This patient may have a busy life and feels stressed and irritable a lot of the time. They may find they have enough energy whilst at work or for other essential tasks but feel exhausted when they are finished. Their headaches often start at the end of a particularly stressful day or week and are likely to be painful at the time and leave them feeling exhausted afterwards.
Acupuncture treatment would focus on reducing stress and strengthening core reserves. Advice would be likely to include relaxation techniques and additional sources of support for stress management as well as doing appropriate exercise and some dietary recommendations to help improve energy.
Acupuncture for Everyone
Everyone is unique and has his or her own complex pattern of health, and every migraine sufferer has their own individual set of circumstances that underlie and trigger their migraines. My role as an acupuncturist is to identify what is out of balance in your individual set of circumstances and provide you with individualised treatment and advice.
Early pregnancy is a strange time. It can bring up a range of emotions – sometimes unexpectedly. I remember finding out I was pregnant with my first child. I was in a good relationship, at a good stage in my life to have a child and although not exactly planned, it wasn’t a surprise either. Nevertheless, I felt shocked and terrified for a good while before I felt happy about it. Once it had sunk in, I still felt adrift and very lonely as I adjusted to my new reality… Then there are the physical changes to contend with I was fortunate enough only to experience mild nausea, but I
know plenty of other women and patients who have had it a lot worse. Women can feel sick constantly, not just in the morning. Some just feel sick for much of the time, others are actually sick. I remember one friend telling me how she had vomited in the kitchen sink while doing the dishes!
Acupuncture has been shown to help reduce nausea and calm anxieties. In a large scale study conducted in Australia, traditional acupuncture was found to significantly reduce nausea and vomiting in women less than 14 weeks pregnant. You can read more on the findings of the study in this article from the Daily Mail here, and access the original study here.
There are several hypotheses about what causes nausea in pregnancy. It could be due to the change in hormone levels of hCG and oestrogen, or due to the brain stem’s reaction to these hormones. It has also been suggested that women who were deep down tired and under stress prior to pregnancy can be more likely to experience more nausea (Betts, 2006). This last theory would certainly fit with the Chinese medicine model which recognises that pregnancy can accentuate existing minor imbalances in one’s health. In this model, pregnancy can also exacerbate emotional confusion or upset and cause pregnancy disorders.
Traditional acupuncture looks to support the whole person mentally and physically. It works to restore balance, bringing a sense of calm and helping to alleviate symptoms. Nausea in pregnancy is viewed as a result of rebellious Stomach Qi (energy) which can be caused either by an underlying weakness in the digestive system, emotional difficulties upsetting the natural flow of energy (Qi), or an excess of heat or phlegm. Sometimes it can be a combination of one or more of these. Acupuncturists treating nausea would be looking to address all the underlying causes as well as using points to address the immediate symptoms. Many women who have received acupuncture for nausea relief find they feel better soon after the needles are in and find coming for treatment twice a week initially, then dropping to weekly helps them get through those early weeks more comfortably. Dietary tips based on your specific Chinese medicine diagnosis may also help to lengthen and enhance the effectiveness of the treatment.
If you’d like to ask me more about how acupuncture could help you or you’d like to book an appointment you can either use this contact form here or call me on 07772 501810
There is an excellent advice sheet from one of the leading acupuncturists in obstetric acupuncture (Debra Betts) available here. This short film clip is also interesting about the use of acupuncture for nausea.
Jill Storstein DipAc, MBAcC is a member of the British Acupuncture Council with clinics in Edinburgh and Portobello.
Betts D, (2006) The Essential Guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth, The Journal of Chinese Medicine, Hove, East Sussex.
Smith C et al. (2002) Acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Birth, Mar;29(1):1-9.
The theory of Yin and Yang is one of the most important paradigms underpinning Traditional Chinese Medicine. Yin and Yang are complementary opposites which define each other. They exist only in relation to each other and each contains an aspect of the other. The famous Daoist symbol depicting Yin and Yang accompanies this article and elegantly describes the theory. The symbol shows Yin and Yang intertwined with each other in a continuous circle. Each has a dot of the other demonstrating that each contains an aspect of the other and has the potential to transform into the other.
Everything in the Universe can be categorised as being either Yin or Yang. Perhaps the simplest example of this is night and day. Night is Yin and day is Yang. To understand what day means – when the sun is up and there is light, we need to have night – the time when the sun is down and the sky is dark. The contrast between the two enables us to understand the significance of each. Moreover, Day will transform into night and night back into day. Another good example of this are the seasons. We have just passed the Summer Solstice – that wonderful time of year that makes living in Northern Europe worth while with the long days. The summer solstice is the time of maximum Yang – the time when the days are as long as they can be – but yet, within this Yang time, there is Yin because we still have night.
Some more examples of Yin and Yang are below:
A further factor of the theory is that Yin and Yang are relative. For example, dawn is Yang in relation to night, but Yin when in relation to day. Water is Yang in relation to ice, but Yin in relation to steam.
The balancing of Yin and Yang can be seen throughout nature and in Daoist philosophy is necessary for a healthy environment, life and universe. Take the weather and growing vegetables for example, if you have too much sunshine and not enough rain, vegetable plants will wither and die. Similarly if you have too much rain and not enough sun, vegetables can rot or will be feeble and bitter. A balance of sun and rain is essential for healthy plant growth.
To be continued in my next Blog: Yin and Yang Theory – Part 2: Yin and Yang Theory in Health and Chinese Medicine
Its been a while since I’ve written a blog entry and what better time to write one than the start of Spring when the clocks have just gone forward. Chinese medicine theory developed over the millenia based on observance of patterns of symptoms in people and correspondences of nature with people. Spring is a season of change with the most dominant organ being the Liver which in the 5 elements, corresponds to Wood and is susceptible to Wind. It is also a time of growth and development. Interestingly both of these factors have been demonstrated in my own practice.
A Flurry of Sore Necks and Painful Shoulders
I have had a lot of patients in my practice in recent weeks coming to me with neck and shoulder pain. In Chinese Medicine theory, the Liver is responsible for ensuring flexibility in our muscles and sinews and corresponds to wood, hence its vulnerability to Wind. Trees need to have some flexibility in them to be able to sway and move in the wind. If they are too rigid they will break in the wind or they will break if the wind is too strong. Wind is the element in dominance in the Springtime and so we need to be careful to protect ourselves against the Wind, by keeping vulnerable areas such as our necks wrapped up – particularly on windy days or in drafty places. If the wind gets in, and our Liver is not functioning as well as it could our muscles and sinews will have less flexibility and so be more susceptible to the wind invading and causing injury. So, it certainly does fit with Chinese medicine theory that I would be seeing more patients with this complaint just now.
Protecting your ‘Liver’
So what can you do to help protect against wind invasions and to help your Liver nourishing your muscles and sinews to keep them supple?
The Liver doesn’t do well under stress, whether its personal emotional issues, or work pressures. Make time for yourself to unwind and acknowledge your emotions. Even just closing your eyes for a minute and focussing on your breathing can help drain the tension from your neck and shoulders.
Keep the wind out! Seal up drafts in your house or work place and if you are outdoors, wear a scarf – particularly on windy days.
Drink plenty fluids – particularly warm drinks on cold days.
Get enough sleep – the Liver recharges and builds blood at night which is essential for nourishing your muscles and sinews to keep them supple.
Exercise to keep your energy and muscles moving – but don’t overdo it – to much could damage your muscles and sinews too. (And remember to keep your neck and shoulders covered if your outdoors in the wind)
Visit your acupuncturist! Acupuncture is great for keeping you energy flowing smoothly through your muscles and can be very relaxing.
Growth and Development for Jill Storstein Acupuncture
I also mentioned that Spring is a time for change and development. Things have certainly been happening for Jill Storstein Acupuncture. My practice is continuing to grow and getting more and more patients coming to me for treatment. It is about to grow even more. I have just joined the KnotStressed team of therapists. KnotStressed is a therapy centre who’s outlook is very similar to my own. They have three main areas they are particularly passionate about:
Helping to relieve tension, stress and ongoing chronic issues
Supporting women and their families through fertility issues, pregnancy, birth, the postnatal period and the menopause
Empowering people to take ownership of their well-being
I am very exited to be affiliated with them – I’ll still be working at my own clinics in Portobello and Clerk Street, Southside, Edinburgh but now have links to them so will participate in open days and you might see flyers with my name on the KnotStressed branding in addition to my own flyers. Find out more about KnotStressed and my practice with them at the following links:
This is a development and adjunct to my existing general practice where I treat whatever condition you come to me with.
Things are continuing to develop with my new clinic space at Natural Foods Etc. Their new website is due to be launched within the next few weeks and we will have having some promotional events later in the spring/early summer so look out for more updates.
And last but no means least, my practice is continuing to grow in Portobello. I am still based at GW Allans Pharmacy on the High Street every week. I do love working down in Porty – it has such a great community feel and being so close to the beach is just heavenly. I also get to meet all sorts of interesting patients with conditions such as back pain, gynaecological issues, urinary difficulties, insomnia and tendonitis. Its a real privilege to get to work through these difficult health issues that people face and to be a part of their recovery.
Traditional Chinese methods of preserving optimal health are grounded in the theory of maintaining a natural balance and living in harmony with our natural surroundings and environment. There are a variety of ways we can do this including living according to the seasons. We are almost at the winter equinox when the days are at their shortest and often their coldest. Our bodies are using a lot of energy just to keep warm so we must preserve our energy as best we can by wrapping up warmly and eating warming foods such as stews and soups made with root vegetables – it is not the time of year to be eating cold salads! Try warm salads with steamed or roasted vegetables instead. Drink warm drinks such as herbal teas rather than drinking cold water. We need to make sure we get plenty sleep and rest to conserve our energy. However, that doesn’t mean no exercise at all – it is good to get outdoors in the daylight for a walk or gentle run to keep our energy moving freely, reduce stress and keep our spirits up. By taking these steps we will help to keep our immune systems working well and wrapping up will help to avoid the cold getting into our muscles and bones and causing constriction and injury.
Keep healthy and enjoy the festive season!
Jill Storstein Acupuncture will be open on Monday 23rd December (3 appointments left), closed on the 30th and open again on 6th January.