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.
The warmer weather and longer days makes such a welcome change after the long dark and wet Scottish winter. It is glorious to see all the flowers and blossom blooming. It seems decidedly unfair that this can mean the arrival or exacerbation of allergies. An allergy is an overreaction of the body’s immune system to something in the environment which would normally be harmless. Its this reaction that causes the irritating and even debilitating symptoms. Allergies can present in a variety of different ways. Most commonly people associate the Spring with hayfever (allergic rhinitis) and its symptoms of runny/blocked nose, incessant sneezing, red itchy eyes and headaches. However, other allergies such as eczema, asthma and even migraines can also get worse for some in the summer months. These allergic reactions can be caused by allergens which is the collective term for anything provoking this reaction and includes pollen, man-made environmental pollutants, dust and animal dander which also increases as furry animals shed their winter coats.
A recent study (Acupuncture in Patients with Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis: A Randomised Trial) showed acupuncture can be an effective treatment. So how does acupuncture help? Chinese medicine evolved over several millennia with an Eastern philosophical framework and without the use of microscopes and blood tests to identify environmental pollutants or measure increased immunoglobins. Nevertheless, it recognised and identified the invasion of pathogenic factors causing the symptoms we call allergies. The impact these pathogenic factors can have depends on the individual person’s constitution and the relative strength of the pathogen. Its for this reason that Chinese medicine (which encompasses acupuncture and Chinese dietary therapy) recognises that people can be more susceptible to allergens depending on what’s been going on in their lives, what their constitution is like, what the surrounding environmental conditions are and what foods they have been eating. What’s more, Chinese medicine has a diagnostic framework that combines these factors allowing practitioners to formulate a treatment that will not only address the immediate symptoms for example, itching or sneezing, but also the underlying causes. Using the appropriate acupunctures points can help to expel the pathogen, alleviating the symptoms and can help to strengthen the body’s defences and constitution to minimise future attacks. Moreover, using the principles of Chinese dietary therapy, traditional acupuncturists can provide easy to follow general dietary advice that will help further reduce sensitivities to allergens.