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Acupuncture

Did your health or wellbeing issue start out as a slight niggle that you promised you’d have looked at, but never got around to? Or do you remember exactly when you noticed a change or discomfort in your body?

A wonderfully soothing and restorative traditional acupuncture treatment by Ka Hang Leoungk could be that extra bit of oomph your body needs. Choose from Remedial Acupuncture, Seasonal Tune-Up and Stress Buster.

What is acupuncture and how does it work?

Making that call to book your very first acupuncture appointment can seem like walking into the unknown. Many who visit me in my practice do so after hearing about an effective experience a friend or colleague had, or from reading about acupuncture in an article. They’re intrigued to know if acupuncture can benefit them but don’t understand how little, hair-like needles can help their condition or relieve pain.

There are two ways to approach the explanation: one using traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the other with western biomedical functions.

The traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) explanation

Traditional acupuncture works on the premises of channel theory: that qi (pronounced chee) travels in pathways (we call them channels) through the body. Qi is often mistranslated as energy or “vital force” which is incorrect as it implies that acupuncture is an energetic healing therapy. A better interpretation of what the ancient Chinese called qi is oxygen in the vessels (qi literally means air or breath in Chinese). The basic fundamental of acupuncture and TCM is that a lack of qi and blood not reaching an area of the body leads to pain or an ailment.

Sometimes, due to lifestyle and environmental reasons, this flow of qi can be disrupted or blocked which can result in some symptoms of pain or illness. In certain instances, traditional acupuncture can be an effective therapy to help restore balance and promote physical and emotional harmony.

Imagine a traffic jam during rush hour. Cars are blocking the road and no one can get anywhere. You start to feel tense around the neck and shoulders, you’re getting tired and annoyed, and oh no, now you need the bathroom as well.

Blocked, or a weak flow of qi in your body is just as bad. Illness or pain can result when this flow of qi is disrupted. Acupuncture works on rebalancing the body’s qi naturally without medication.

Now, if the traffic jam was suddenly removed: it would be a great feeling, right?

Along the channels are acupuncture points which are like junctions on a motorway, allowing access to the meridians. The acupuncture points are gateways to influence, redirect, and increase or decrease the body’s flow of qi, blood and vital substances to address many of the body’s imbalances.

At its simplest, acupuncture is the practice of inserting sterile hair-fine needles to an acupuncture point but that is like sticking your hand out to hail a taxi when there are none around. Now if you catch a cab driver’s attention and takes you as a passenger you have achieved success. In the same way, acupuncturists believe stimulating the qi in the channels somehow signals to the body’s system what it needs to do to resolve the condition.

The western science explanation

In spite of some excellent research designed to answer how acupuncture works, there are currently no clear, simple answers available. This is largely due to the fact acupuncture has a variety of therapeutic effects on the body and so the action depends on the type of pathology. Pain (and therefore pain relief) is the area in which the most research has been done; hence most of the theories about the mechanisms of acupuncture relate to issues of pain.

The most popular modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release morphine-like substances to help deal with the pain. Nerve fibres travel from the acupuncture points to the spinal cord, and from there they continue on to the brain stem and hypothalamus-pituitary gland. Stimulation of these areas in the brain and spinal cord cause the release of neurotransmitters, such as endorphins, that cause inhibition of nerve pain fibres.

Animal studies have shown that acupuncture can alter the release of various hormones and neurotransmitters. These affect the parts of the central nervous system related to sensation and involuntary body functions, such as immune reactions and processes that regulate blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature.

Is acupuncture effective?

Yes! In 2003 the World Health Organization recognized acupuncture as effective for a wide range of common health conditions (download PDF) and in 2009, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence released guidelines recommending that acupuncture should be made available on the NHS, as a cost-effective short-term treatment for the management of early, persistent non-specific lower back pain. This was the first time the health service watchdog had explicitly backed alternative therapies. Today acupuncture is becoming more and more popular as people feel the benefits it can have alongside conventional western medicine.

Are there different styles of acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a system of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that dates back over 2,000 years. During that time, different opinions to theory and technique led to different styles (off shoots or branches) developing from the traditional, TCM style of diagnosis and treatment. These include Japanese style, Five Elements, Korean hand technique, French auricular (ear acupuncture) styles of acupuncture.

The TCM style is the ‘grandfather’ of them all: the source from which the other styles branched out from. Ka Hang Leoungk practices in the TCM style.

Do acupuncture needles hurt?

Acupuncture needles are very fine and almost hair-like, unlike hypodermic needles which are thick and hollow. Patients generally do not feel the painful pricking sensation associated with an injection, blood sample or other medical procedure. Only sterile, disposable needles are used.

What does acupuncture feel like?

When the needle is inserted correctly in the proper location, your body’s qi will grab onto the needle. Some people don’t feel very much, but most will feel a dull or heavy sensation, while some will feel an energetic sensation similar to a mild electric shock. However, most people find the general length of treatment quite relaxing and it is perfectly fine if you doze off. You will never be left in the room alone during a treatment.

Why should I use acupuncture?

When performed correctly, acupuncture is a safe method of treatment with very few of the side effects often associated with medication such as nausea, headaches or weight change.

Acupuncture is a form of alternative therapy that complements western medicine wonderfully. It should not be a substitute for western medicine, and you should always inform your GP of any treatments you are having.

How many treatments will I need?

Acupuncture is a process, and the frequency and length of treatment depends on your individual condition. It is very rare for an acupuncturist to be able to resolve a problem with just one treatment. In China, it is typical to treat a chronic condition with acupuncture every other day for 3 months.

Occasionally some people need regular treatment over a few months, while some conditions only involve one or two sessions. Typically, a course of 10 – 15 treatments will be needed. The general rule of thumb is that acute conditions tend to respond faster than chronic conditions. The longer you’ve had the problem, the longer it will take to feel better.

Afterwards, patients often continue to receive treatment on a monthly or seasonal interval, as a preventative measure.

Start feeling good again, today.

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