Pin-pointing A Cure

18th October 2008

Mary Linehan gets the needle.

For many of us, our understanding of acupuncture is limited to the knowledge that it involves being pricked, pin-cushion-like, with sharp needles – a concept that, quite frankly, sounds too painful for most people to consider. Despite its 2,500 year history, therefore, acupuncture remains a mystery to the vast majority.

Yet, according to the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC), its ability to treat people in mind, spirit and body is so comprehensive that it can treat a range of chronic and acute problems, from respiratory complaints to neurological and musculoskeletal disorders, through to gynaecological conditions and even emotional issues.

So, what is it, exactly? The BAcC describes it as an Oriental therapy that, rather than treat specific symptoms in isolation, aims to treat the root cause and improve the overall well-being of the patient. Traditional Chinese philosophy states that our health is dependent on the body’s motivating energy, known as Qi, moving in a smooth and balanced way through a series of meridians or channels below the skin. If this energy is disrupted, it can lead to illness. By inserting needles into the body to access the Qi, an acupuncturist can help restore natural balance, thereby stimulating the body’s own healing response.

We’ve all gone to our GP, told him our symptoms, had our pulse taken and stuck out our tongue. I don’t recall ever being told why. Apparently, in acupuncture, the practitioner uses his examination of pulse and tongue, as well as interpreting what the patient is telling him about any symptoms, to help form a complete health profile, which is then the basis of treatment.

Marian Rose from the BAcC explains that different organs are represented by specific areas of the tongue, so it provides a detailed picture of the body’s state of health. In an acupuncture session, the colour, shape, moisture, movement and coating will be assessed. It may seem strange, but, along with other diagnostic assessments, a practitioner can tell a lot from this evaluation.

Rose adds, “The pulse reflects the internal functioning of the body, mind and spirit. A practitioner will note the strength, depth, rhythm and rate of the pulse to ascertain the condition of different parts of the system, including disharmonies and imbalances, and use their skills to to encourage healing.”

Only when diagnosis is complete will an acupuncturist apply treatment. This takes the form of inserting ultrafine needles into specific points on the body to stimulate and rebalance the body’s energy channels, ultimately helping treat the whole person. The choice of acupuncture points will be specific to an individual patient’s needs, and needles are inserted for anything up to 20 minutes. As a guideline, a patient might need approximately 4 to 12 treatments.

A recent survey conducted across the UK by the BAcC reported that the top five health problems amongst acupuncture patients were back pain, depression, fertility, headaches and skin problems.

The survey also reveals, unsurprisingly given the current climate, that the tolls of the 21st century – dealing with today’s economic and social pressures and having to work longer hours – have led more under-40s to turn to traditional acupuncture to treat a variety of emotional concerns. The BAcC research revealed that the top three such issues are depression (18%), anxiety (12.8%) and insomnia (10.4%) with stress following closely behind.

Gisela Norman, a BAcC member and traditional acupuncture practitioner said: “An acupuncture session involves one-to-one time in order to understand the patient as an individual with a tailor-made treatment plan. This, in combination with the needling to lift mood and give much needed relief, can be very powerful.”

As with all health care, it’s important to find a registered and qualified practitioner. The BAcC has 2,800 accredited members who are able to adapt traditional acupuncture theory to the needs of modern healthcare while still retaining its essence. You can expect to pay anything from £35 to £60 per session.

To find a practitioner in your area visit www.acupuncture.org.uk or call the British Acupuncture Council on 020 8735 0400.

To find a practitioner in your area visit www.acupuncture.org.uk or call the British Acupuncture Council on 020 8735 0400.

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