What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture consists in the insertion of fine wire-like needles, as thick as a cat’s whisker, into the skin of the patient at a relatively superficial level. This will come activate a point on, what is known as, a meridian.
To put it simply, connections exist in the human body and acupuncture points are command buttons an acupuncturist stimulates in order to initiate a process by which the body of the patient will heal itself.
To further explain the theory behind acupuncture, the meridian system is the energetic equivalent of the nervous or circulatory system. Just like main nerves and arteries, the ancient Chinese people identified 12 (vertical) main meridians in the body with their own points, and an extra 8 (horizontal) meridians using the points of the main meridians.
Central behind it all is the notion of Qi (pronounced “chee”), which can be translated as the vital energy circulating in your body. Qi is deemed to be immaterial and of a fluid-like consistency akin to transparent dense mist; it also has a magnetic / electric quality and can be perceived as hot/ cold, electrical / neutral, nice / yucky by those who have developed a sensitivity to it.
When an acupuncture needle is inserted in an acupuncture point, the Qi will move in a specific way that will trigger a response from the body, rectifying the imbalance. The acupuncturist is trained in the functions of the meridians and points to choose the most appropriate combination regarding the patient’s condition.
How many needles are used?
I usually use between 5 to 20 needles, depending on the patient’s condition. My aim is always to select the most effective points so as to minimise the number of needles used.
Does it hurt?
This is always a primary concern for those who never had any acupuncture before. From a study ran in 2016, half of the people who never had acupuncture perceived it as painful, while people who had at least one session considered it as relaxing.
Although very little sensation comes from the actual needling, the acupuncture point can be electrical, warm or buzzing once activated.
What happens in practice?
I place a big emphasis in telling my patients what I have observed, what I am about to do and why. Oriental Medicines such as acupuncture and others can sometimes appear obscure and mysterious, it is part of my task to explain the logic behind this exotic system. I then ask the patient to set themselves comfortably on the recliner or table and, after ensuring the patient is comfy and relaxed, proceed with the needling.
Once done, patients usually talk, relax, sleep, or do all three, usually in that order.
The truth is that is the perfect time for you to disconnect from everything else and get some much deserved rest!
Different acupuncture techniques
Various forms of acupuncture exist: TCM acupuncture, Classic acupuncture, Japanese acupuncture, Korean acupuncture, ear acupuncture, abdominal acupuncture, scalp acupuncture, Balance Method acupuncture… Each of these have particularities such as a specific cultural view or the use of micro-systems.
In my practice I have now been trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture and Balance Method acupuncture.
Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture refers to the reformed diagnostic and treatment method compiled by the Chinese government following WWII.
The key principles revolve around a diagnostic by feeling the pulse and looking at the tongue of the patient following a detailed enquiry about the patient’s condition. From this diagnostic, the acupuncturist will establish a pattern of imbalance, usually tied to one or several organs.
It is important to note that TCM vocabulary can be a bit overwhelming for the patient. For example, when diagnosed with “Spleen Qi Deficiency” there is no need to rush to your GP as very few things will come up from clinical examinations.
This simply means that the acupuncturist, or TCM herbalist (if they do herbs) can detect underlying conditions before it is visible by clinical tests. The difference lies in the approach, when Western medicine has a way of treating using strong drugs and surgery, the Oriental Medicine will focus on helping the body heal itself or in a gentler, more natural way.
The acupuncturist will then do a selection of meridians and points based on their function and action and will needle them as appropriate. Once done, the patient can rest and relax (or “cook” as we call it) for a duration between 15 minutes (for very deficiency patients) to 1 hour.
Following the session, the effect of the treatment will stabilise within 72 hours, after which the patient is invited to provide an initial feedback. In the subsequent sessions, a feedback will be asked systematically so as to fine-tune the treatment to the evolution of the condition.
What does the pulse tells you?
The pulse of the patient is measured in a particular way, as how fast the heart beat is only one of the component taken into account. TCM takes a more qualitative aspect to determine the pulse of a patient, with more than 24 classic pulse types identified. Generally, the pulse tells the acupuncturist if the patient is in neutral, deficient or excess condition and which organ is affected.
What does the tongue tells you?
The tongue is a map of the internal organs of the patient (see below). The acupuncturist can determine if the condition of the patient is external (pathogen) or internal (imbalance or infiltrated pathogen)
The Balance Method Acupuncture is an acupuncture method created by Dr Richard Tan, symbolising his life work. Unfortunately deceased in 2015, his three closest students have now taken over the teaching of this method as Si Yuan BMA.
In order to learn this approach, it is necessary to have a very good knowledge of TCM as this constitutes the basis, although the Balance Method is different in many ways.
The basic theory behind it is that an acupuncturist does not treat symptoms or organs, it treats meridians.
The patient describe the condition they suffer from and where the symptoms are on the body, the acupuncturist then diagnose which meridians are affected, determine which meridians will be able to balance the sick meridians and will select the points based on a mirror / image projection of the affected part on a limb (arms, legs).
With this method, the needling is always done distally (away from the affected or injured part).
This method has three main advantages:
– Instant result: the patient knows if you have hit the spot!
– Simplicity: less needles are used than in a traditional treatment
– Distal needling: needle healthy meridians to heal affected meridians for a maximum effect! (plus, patient can remain dressed!)
Another advantage is the possibility to do Community acupuncture. As the patients remain dressed and usually sit on a chair, it becomes possible to treat several patients at once.