Acupuncture… Wish I’d had my tutor as a clinician!

In a previous blog I planned to do a blog about acupuncture and/or hydrotherapy, adding in some research, and I did start looking into the papers… but for some reason my heart just wasn’t in it! And if you have ever tried to read a research paper when your hearts not in it you will know that they are the perfect antidote to insomnia!!

 

So instead I will just give you a run down of my personal experience! I’ll try and give you a brief history of acupuncture first from my notes taken whilst training in acupuncture earlier this year, unfortunately I haven’t really had the opportunity to practice my acupuncture since the course… and you certainly can’t acupuncture yourself effectively!

 

There are two recognised types of acupuncture TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), and the western approach.

TCM is known to stretch back as far as 3000 years, it is a holistic concept of treatment and a recognition that the body has the ability to return to a balanced state of health/repair itself given the correct stimulus. TCM aims to balance ying and yang (two opposing energies), takes into account the 5 elements (Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood), and along with assessing the pulse, and tongue (and a few other bits and bobs) TCM practitioners try to gain access to the energy that circulates in the body to restore balance and subsequently healing.

 

However, the NHS can’t really work to those guidelines!!! Western medicine needs evidence based practice, it needs proof that what it delivers is backed by clinical evidence and is cost effective. Practitioners have had a good idea that acupuncture works in certain situations, and therefore it has been dabbled in in western medical literature since the 17th Century, but only really has there been any western systemised clinical trials since 1950… so we are a touch behind the Chinese with this one! Sadly western medicine tends to ignore the wealth of evidence from China, to do it’s own. Evidence has been looking into the science behind how acupuncture works, the science behind pain, and how we can modulate pain, and has yet to look into how acupuncture can be used for asthma, gastric motility, mood, addiction, etc. etc. etc. in any great length.

 

What we do know is that acupuncture can have a strong analgesic effect… I’m not going into the science of pain and how acupuncture effects pain… that is was too much for my baby brain to take at the moment ***

 

Ok… back to my recent experience… As I said there are two approaches, I was trained by a western practicing physiotherapist who happened to be Chinese, and after learning the western way, has been to China to learn the TCM method also… He looks at papers from both sides of the globe for his evidence and teaching, and therefore stepped away from the rigid teachings of some western acupuncture societies to pass on his wealth of knowledge to hopefully produce good practitioners that get results, whilst still are able to backup their practice with evidence.

One of the main aspects of his teaching was that acupuncture needs at least 6 sessions (3 weeks getting treatment twice a week), plus there needs to be progression, so start with 6-10 needles (consider if this is unilateral or bilateral – so may need for example 6 needles per hand if treating hand pain) but increase number of or change points of needles as required, aim for 30 minutes treatment time, and make sure you stimulate the needles initially every 5 minutes until Deqi (energy – generally felt like a numbing heavy sensation – this is the sensation that enables people to undergo surgery with only acupuncture as analgesia!!) is achieved.

This is how both the western and TCM have shown that acupuncture gets results….

 

My acupuncture consisted of (despite my pain being widespread) once a week sessions of 30 minutes for 4 weeks, two needles in each wrist (this didn’t vary or change at all despite little help from the first couple of sessions), stimulated once per session, with no Deqi achieved, and a huge amount of discomfort 1) in the positioning of myself – have you ever tried to sit in one position for 30 minutes without moving an inch because you have needles sticking into your very sensitive skin, and 2) in the needle sites them selves as they were in so shallowly that they waved around in the breeze from an open window.

Acupuncture, although not a painless procedure – someone is sticking needles into you – is on the whole a very comfortable treatment. Most of your bodies pain receptors are in your skin, once the needle has passes through these into the tissues below there is very little to be felt. Acupuncture needles are sooooo much thinner than when you get an injection, and therefore are far less painful than any injection…. unless they are left in the superficial layers of the skin!!!

 

So all in all… I’m afraid despite how lovely my clinician was, my acupuncture was a huge failure, however this lady wasn’t used to treating ladies with RA, she’s used to treating pregnant ladies with low back pain and pelvic pain, and all the girls at hydro that I spoke to that were getting acupuncture for their pain were getting great relief, therefore I feel it was probably a lack of experience of treating other areas of the body!!!

I think probably my background knowledge also put me at a disadvantage as I was sitting there thinking… ‘this isn’t enough needles, there are better points around the hand and arm that could be used, the needles aren’t in enough, they haven’t been stimulated enough, I’m not getting that nice warm heavy numbing sensation’.

As they say, ‘if you believe something is going to work it probably will…. if you don’t believe in it it probably wont!’. I do believe in the benefit of acupuncture, wholeheartedly, just not my recent exposure to it!!

 

So, my advice to anyone who is considering acupuncture for RA… I’m sure it has it’s uses, but if your looking for a practitioner do your research!! Either TCM or Western I believe both have value, I think it is more important the level of experience that that practitioner has in treating YOUR condition or problem! Ask them how many people have they treated with these problems, what is their success rate, ideally get some recommendations from people who have been to them before, and check out their registration to professional bodies – anyone can do a couple of weeks course and pop a certificate up on their wall, but if they are registered with a professional body then they will be regulated!!

 

*** Pain is a really fascinating thing, and how the body and brain connect to signal pain or block pain is very interesting, so if you ever decide to look into it, there are thousands of books and websites and papers that go into it in varying amounts of detail!! Just be prepared to get your thinking cap on and give yourself plenty of time!

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