What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Acupuncture is rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) & has a history that dates back thousands of years. It has also been adopted by many other Eastern healthcare systems over the centuries, with evidence to suggest that even vikings may have used acupuncture.
Traditional Acupuncturists train for a minimum of 2-3 years to understand the subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for centuries in TCM. They view the body as a whole with mental, emotional and physical symptoms seen as dependant upon each other. This is where TCM excels, symptoms that may be seemingly unrelated in Western Medicine can be explained in TCM.
TCM is one of the original forms of "Functional Medicine". It aims to not only relieve the symptoms but to also treat the root cause of disease/disharmony within the body. Therefore the fundamental aim of acupuncture is to restore balance to the whole body.
Focus is placed on the individual & not their illness with all the symptoms viewed in relation to each other. Each patient is unique & even two people with the same western diagnosis may well receive different acupuncture treatments as they are tailored for their specific needs.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
All processes within the body require an energetic input in order for them to happen, whether it be thermal, kinetic, bio-chemical or electrical. Illness & pain occur when this vital energy cannot flow freely within the body, resulting in either too much or too little energy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There can be many reasons for this with the most common being emotional trauma, stress, poor nutrition, infection, muscle tightness or physical injury.
By inserting ultra-fine sterile needles into specific acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncturist seeks to re-establish the free flow of energy to restore balance & trigger the body's natural healing response. This is done by sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles. This results in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. These naturally released substances are thought to be responsible for the beneficial effects experienced with acupuncture.
There has been much discussion about the precise way that acupuncture works but it has not been easy to prove this with modern scientific research. The chief reason that it was so difficult to identify the mechanism of action is that the meridian system is not an actual physical structure. Instead, meridians behave like a series of interconnected energetic pathways. Eventually, as scientists began to research acupoints found along the meridians pathways, they noticed that the points and the meridians each possessed distinctive electrical properties when compared with surrounding skin. This finding correlated with research into the properties of the body’s connective tissue matrix which gives the body, tissues, organs and cells their shapes.
Connective tissue is the most abundant and widely distributed of the primary tissues within the body. Fascia is defined as a sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue enveloping, separating, or binding together muscles, organs, and other tissues of the body. Fascia has some amazing qualities primarily being a semi conductor able to support high-speed communication across the body through the conduction of electrons, protons, and other subatomic entities across the collagenous protein network.
The discovery of these properties led to the conclusion that the connective tissue matrix behaved like liquid-crystalline tissue and was the likely means by which energy and information moved instantaneously across the body. This working theory may well be the mechanism of action by which the transfer of energy occurs in acupuncture’s meridian and acupoint system.
What to Expect
The effects of acupuncture are cumulative and a course of acupuncture usually creates longer lasting pain relief than when a single treatment is used. The frequency of treatments required is dependant on the severity of the symptoms.
In severe cases 1-2 treatments a week may be recommended initially to reduce the pain. Other conditions may only require treatment every few weeks. Acupuncture can be a useful tool in managing the symptoms of many long term chronic illnesses.
An initial acupuncture session usually lasts 90 mins for adults and 1 Hr for children. It involves an assessment of your general health, medical history and a physical examination, followed by insertion of the acupuncture needles. Courses of treatment often involve several separate sessions, but this can vary.
Fine, sterile needles are inserted into specific places on the body, called acupuncture points. There are many different techniques within acupuncture & in some practices the skin may be palpated to locate areas of tenderness. This tenderness is an indicator of imbalance and thus needles are inserted at these sites. This may sound like there is pain involved but in reality the patient usually feels more sensation when the point is pressed by the practitioner's hand than when the actual needle is inserted.
The needles used are very fine and are usually a few centimetres long. They should be single-use, pre-sterilised needles that are disposed of immediately after use.
I am trained in Traditional Chinese Acupuncture, Japanese Acupuncture and Dr Tans Balance Method which give me a variety of strategies to treat different diseases.
DR TAN BALANCE METHOD
The Dr Richard Tan Balance Method is different from Traditional Chinese Medicine as it focuses on the location of pain or discomfort rather than diagnosing based on the symptoms and organs. The emphasis is placed on identifying which meridian or energy pathway is affected. Each meridian works in partnership with other meridians and by using the partnered meridians, we can restore balance to the sick meridian. This method DOES NOT insert needles at the site of pain, instead Dr Tan also uses a method called mirroring and imaging. This uses the principle of like structures, to illustrate: the knee is similar to the elbow, the shoulder is a similar joint to the hip, the ankle is similar to the wrist & so on.
Instead of needling near the pain, the partnered channel is palpated to locate areas of discomfort on a similar structure, and this is where the needles are inserted. For example, if you had elbow pain, your knees may be needled. Alternatively, the pain can be mirrored onto the opposite limb, such as pain in the right elbow can be treated by needling the left elbow.
This method sounds hard to believe but the resulting reduction in pain can ofter be seen there and then on the couch, and that is what makes this technique so affective. This technique excels when it comes to pain reduction but can also be used to treat many other internal conditions such as fertility, anxiety, digestive disorders and head aches to name just a few.
This video shows how the technique in practice during a demonstration on the training course.
During the session, you'll usually be asked to lie down either face down or on your back. You may also be asked to remove some clothes so the practitioner can access certain parts of your body such as the upper back. It is advisable to wear loose fitting clothes that can be rolled up to the elbow and knees.
Acupuncture practitioners choose specific points to place the needles based on your condition. Several points may be used during a typical session, depending on the number of symptoms you have. The needles may be inserted just under the skin, or deeper so they reach muscle.
Once the needles are in place, they may be left in position for a length of time lasting from a few minutes up to around 30 minutes. You may feel a tingling or a dull ache when the needles are inserted but you should not experience any significant pain. If you do, let your practitioner know straight away.
ACUPUNCTURE SAFETY & REGULATION
There is no statutory regulation in the UK for acupuncturists so it is important that patients check the qualifications and affiliations of anyone they are seeking treatment from. When done by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is generally very safe and only very mild side effects are seen in less than 3% of patients such as drowsiness, bruising & occasional faintness.
The largest voluntary regulatory body within the UK is the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) and all its members must have trained to Lic Ac. or Degree level in Traditional Chinese Medicine to become a member. Members will have MBAcC after their name. There are other associations so it is important to check the practitioner.
All needles used are sterile and single use which means they are disposed after use.