Acupuncture is an effective form of integrated, modern healthcare based on over 2,000 years of tradition, practice, and empirical evidence. It has been the focus of a great number of clinical trials in recent decades to determine its efficacy and mechanisms with both promising and surprising results.
With this research, modern medical science is now finding ways to explain the physiological mechanisms that are activated during a treatment, as well as the healing effects it has on the body. For many years acupuncture has been shrouded in mystery from the Western world. Yet with the physiological processes now being better explained through scientific method, we are learning more about how the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concept of ‘Qi’ (vital force) translates to the bio-mechanical processes of the human body.
In TCM, pain and disease arise when there is a blockage of either Qi or blood in the organs or meridians. With the use of fine, filiform acupuncture needles, acupuncturists manipulate the flow of Qi and blood within the meridians in order to promote a smooth flow of these vital substances. Acupuncture addresses both the symptoms and cause of disease by promoting the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
While the modern version of acupuncture and its applications are somewhat different today, this unique form of natural medicine has its roots in a tradition that is believed to be up to 5,000 years old. While the needles used today are machine-manufactured with precision from surgical steel, our method of healing still relies on the time-honoured principles of maintaining a balance of Qi (Chi) and Blood, Yin and Yang in the body. Since modern medicine has shed scientific light on these ancient concepts, we now have a better understanding through the study of human physiology.
Qi can be likened to our energy levels, metabolism and nervous system; Blood is monitored by our cardiovascular system; and even Yin and Yang have their comparisons within the autonomic nervous system that controls our cycles of activity and rest.
Using the wisdom of the past and combining it with the knowledge of the present day, acupuncture practitioners of today now have the best of both schools of thought in order to provide the most effective treatment results for their patients.
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Here is a video of me talking about human health and physiology from the perspective of Tradition Chinese Medicine.
This employs the use of a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine which is connected to the tips of acupuncture needles to send a minute current into the the body. As our body naturally operates by a system of electrical signals, this is extremely effective for a wide range of conditions and can provide a more effective treatment for certain conditions that just the needles alone. Different aspects of the body such as neurotransmitters, chemical receptors, central and peripheral nerves all respond to different frequencies of electrical signals. The TENS machine can therefore be set to the corresponding frequencies depending on the type of condition being treated for a more effective response.
As a result of a great deal of acupuncture research since the 1950’s, it has been well-documented that acupuncture can produce analgesic effects by increasing the production and release of opioid peptides in the central nervous system (1). These opioid peptides have profound effects on the body such as potent analgesia, regulation of visceral functions and modulation of the immune system (2).
Electro acupuncture (EA) has been found to down-regulate the expression of certain receptors which are involved in generating pain signals (3), as well as inhibiting cell activation that occurs during the inflammatory response and neuropathic pain (4).
It has been found that EA provided at 2 Hz stimulates the release of beta-endorphin, enkephalin and endomorphin within the central nervous system, while EA at 100 Hz releases dynorphin (5). Why does this matter? These endogenous opioids play very important roles in pain relief within the body as beta-endorphins are 18 to 33 times more potent than morphine (6), while dynorphins are 200 more potent than morphine and 50 times more powerful than beta-endorphins (7).
Here is a short video where I provide a brief description of the pain-killing effects of acupuncture.
Wu, S, Leung, A & Yew, D 2016, ‘Acupuncture for Detoxification in Treatment of Opioid Addiction’, East Asian Arch Psychiatry, No. 26, pp. 70 – 76, www.ebsco.com, viewed 15 January 2017, p. 71
Lin, L, Skakavac, N, Lin, X, Lin, D, Borlongan, M, Borlongan, C & Cao, C 2016, ‘Acupuncture-Induced Analgesia: The Role of Microglial Inhibition’, Cell Transplantation, Vol. 25, pp. 621–628, viewed 21 April 2017, http://www.ingentaconnect.com/contentone/cog/ct/2016/00000025/00000004/art00003?crawler=true&mimetype=application/pdf, p. 622
Lin, J & Chen, W 2008, ‘Acupuncture Analgesia: A Review of Its Mechanisms of Actions’, The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Vol. 36, No. 4, 635–645, viewed 21 April 2017, http://www.encognitive.com/files/Acupuncture%20Analgesia::%20A%20Review%20of%20Its%20Mechanisms%20of%20Actions.pdf, p. 640
Lin et al. loc.cit. p. 625
Lin & Chen loc.cit. p. 637
Loh, H, Tseng, L, Wei, E & Li 1976, ‘beta-endorphin is a potent analgesic agent’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol. 73, No. 8, pp. 2895–2898, viewed 22 April 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC430793/
Stanford University Medical Centre 1979, ‘Stanford University Medical Centre News Bureau’, Stanford Medicine Website’, viewed 20 April 2017, http://med.stanford.edu/content/dam/Timeline/legacy-1979_goldstein_A33.pdf
Tui Na - Chinese Remedial Massage
Based on the same diagnostic system and using the same channel system as acupuncture, Tui Na acts as an effective adjunctive therapy to any acupuncture treatment. Employing a comprehensive system of techniques and varying pressures, Tui Na is an effective form of medicine even on its own. When combined with acupuncture, the strength of the treatment is increased and often provides more effective results for most conditions, particularly for musculoskeletal conditions, pain, stress and digestive disorders.
Patients have the option of receiving Tui Na as part of their acupuncture session, or as a stand-alone treatment. The beauty of this massage style is that the practitioner can work at a range of different levels to suite the requirements of the patient and what is being treated. For example, musculoskeletal treatments may require more firm, deep tissue techniques to help promote the body’s healing processes. This can usually cause soreness the day after that could be likened to what one would feel after a workout. This is completely normal and the condition usually improves markedly in the following days.
For conditions related to internal imbalances manifesting in upset digestion or emotional disorders, a less intense treatment may be called for that involves repetitive strokes, massaging of the acupuncture channels, or abdominal massage. Massage for general relaxation is also available. And while traditionally, Tui Na is performed through clothing without the use of oils, patients are given the option of being fully clothed or bare skin with massage balm and liniments.
N.B. Private health rebates are only available for Tui Na when provided in conjunction with acupuncture.
Moxibustion is a technique within Traditional Chinese Medicine that has been used as an adjunct to acupuncture treatments for thousands of years. In fact it is such an integral part of the practice of acupuncture that the Chinese character for acupuncture actually translates to “acupuncture-moxibustion”. The technique involves burning ‘moxa’ (fermented mugwort) and applying it near the region being treated in order to bring warmth to the area. Traditionally it was seen as a means to warm the acupuncture channels and move stagnation of Qi and blood. In medical terminology this means dilating blood vessels and improving blood flow, thereby promoting healing.
Traditionally a mix of fermented mugwart was used in treatment, however these days a smokeless charcoal version is often used. The application of heat to any region of the body improves circulation and promotes the healing process, particularly is there are regions of the body that harbour stagnant energy or are affected by cold. New research also shows that heat application stimulates heat shock proteins (HSP) that promote healing and regeneration of tissues. Moxibustion is commonly used to treat injury and muscle pain by promoting the healing process, but is also used for acne and skin infections, and has even been found be effective in aiding a breech baby to return to the normal positioning by using moxa on the point BL67 on the tip of the little toe.
Glass cupping is the practice of removing Qi (vital force) and Blood stagnation in the body by creating a vacuum within the cup with fire. Only specially designed, high quality glass cups are used for this. An open flame is briefly placed inside the cup which burns up the oxygen and creates a vacuum before being quickly placed on the patient’s skin in the area of treatment. The vacuum inside the glass cup draws the skin and underlying tissues up into the cup to release tension and tightness in the underlying muscles and connective tissues. Some patients find that cupping releases a great deal of tension in the areas where they are applied, others simply enjoy the experience as a form of relaxation.
Slide cupping is another form of glass cupping where massage balm is first applied to the area. A single cup is then applied with suction and moved around the area which allows for varying sensations at a lower intensity yet over a greater surface area.
It is common that cupping will leave a bruise-like mark upon the skin surface. This is as a result of minute capillaries in the skin bursting from the pressure of the cup and is an inherent part of the treatment in order to gain the proposed benefits of releasing the underlying tissues. While there can be some soreness the next day after treatment, these marks are unlike actual bruises. They do not hurt in the same way as their has been no impactful trauma to the tissue and the marks usually clear up within a week. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the darker the marks that occur from the cupping, the more stagnation is being moved and the more effective the treatment.
Traditionally cupping was also used to remove heat and toxins from the body and to relieve stagnation of Qi in the channels and organs. “Flash” cupping is used as a treatment for Bell’s palsy whereby a very small amount of suction is generated in a smaller glass cup. It is then briefly placed on the skin of the affected side before being pulled off again straight away at which point a popping sound can be heard from the cup as the pressure releases. This smaller amount of repeatedly applied suction helps to stimulate the nerves pathways that innervate the facial muscles that are affected in Bell’s palsy. This process is repeated a number of times, very quickly until the entire surface of the affected side of the face has been covered.
N.B. Cupping is available as a stand-alone service in 30 minute or 60 minute sessions, or is provided at no extra cost within an acupuncture or Tui Na treatment.
A recent addition to the area of sports injury, kinesiology tape is an effective form of strapping to support the body during healing. Unlike rigid traditional sports tapes, kinesiology tape has a degree of stretch which allows for greater movement while still providing support. The rationale behind the varying designs of application are essentially to mimic the strength and tension lines of the underlying muscles and tendons.
Kinesiology tape performs three primary functions in assisting the healing process for sprains, muscle strains and a range of injuries both acute and chronic:
- Acts as a second “skin” or “tendon” for areas of the body that are healing from injury. This not only provides additional strength and support for the area being treated, but the elastic tension of the tape provides resistance agains stretching the muscles or tendons to far so as to not aggravate the injury while healing. At the same time, as the tape is not rigid, it allows for freedom of movement which is required for connective tissue, such as the underlying fascia, to form properly during the healing process.
- By creating a tensional membrane across the skin, the tape creates extra space to a slight degree between the skin and underlying muscles and tendons which allows for greater blood flow. The more an injury has access to fresh and flowing blood, the quicker nutrients and building blocks can be delivered and the faster it can heal.
- One of the main proposes of inflammation (redness, swelling, heat, pain, loss of function) is to reduce our ability to move the injured area so that it may have the chance to heal. As the swelling and pain subside as quick as our bodies can manage in order to regain our ability to move, we may be at risk of further injury if it has not healed 100%. The presence of the tape stimulates the brain’s sense of proprioception (awareness of our body in 3-dimensional space). This acts as a continuous source of feedback from the area of injury to the brain so we are more aware of the area (even if not directly), which helps to lessen our chance of over-stretching or bearing too much weight to prevent re-injury or exacerbation.
N.B. Kinesiology taping is available as a stand-alone treatment for $20 a session ($10 for every extra area of the body/ injury) or is complimentary when provided within an acupuncture or Tui Na treatment.
Patent Chinese Herbs
Patent Chinese Herbs
While I predominantly use acupuncture and manual therapies to achieve results, I may also use patent Chinese herbal formulas if I feel they are going to help in assisting the outcome of the treatment. I may incorporate herbs when treating digestive issues, sleep and mood disorders, mens’ and womens’ health.
I stock ChinaMed® brand which use top quality ‘A’ grade herbs manufactured under Australian Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards and regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). There is a vast range of herbal formulas available for a range of chronic and acute conditions.
The ChinaMed® capsule range provides a convenient way to take Chinese herbal medicines. These highly concentrated herbal extracts are produced to a concentration ratio of 6:1, allowing a therapeutic dose to be easily achieved. The formulas have been specifically developed to be suitable for modern Western conditions, utilising the expertise of some of the most renowned herbal doctors in China.
Gua Sha & Plum Blossom Needle
Gua Sha/ Scraping
Gua Sha or scraping is a technique in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where a tool is scraped against the skin to produce redness or minor bruising to help expel toxins and external pathogens from the body as a means to treat illness. Most commonly it is used as means of prevention against colds and flu by opening up the pores to release the pathogen. According to TCM theory, one of the ways we can become ill is by an external pathogenic attack by harmful Qi in the form of wind, dry damp, heat or cold which can invade the body via the Taiyang channel that runs through the neck and shoulders. If your neck is exposed during cold weather for example, the idea is that the pores may be open and prone to attack. Hence why it is a good idea to keep your neck warm in cold weather.
In modern physiological terms, this harmful Qi is simply referring to bacteria and viruses. In an acute onset of the cold or flu, our neck and surrounding muscles contract and may become inflamed, and our lymph glands swell in response to an attack. By scraping the channels around the neck, the aim is to loosen the neck muscles and generate heat, thereby increasing circulation in the general area and helping the lymph fluid to travel easier for a more effective immune response.
These days you can find plastic or even quartz crystal scraping tools, however traditionally they were made from stone, jade or bone, or a porcelain soup spoon also works effectively.
Plum Blossom/ 7 Star Needle/ Dermal Hammering
The dermal hammer is gently and repeatedly tapped against the skin to produce redness and/ or minor bleeding in the area in order to promote Qi and Blood flow in the channels. It is used for the treatment of trauma and pain relief as well as for the prevention of colds and the flu. It is also used to expel excess heat from the body such as in cases of high fever or heat rashes, or to help restore sensation to areas or nerve damage. The theory according to TCM is that the dermal hammer aids in opening the pores to help dispel any heat or toxins, and the repetitive striking of the hammer helps to break up any stagnation that may be causing pain.
Blood Letting/ Wet Cupping
In today’s practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), blood letting on its own usually consists of pricking the skin in a particular area and allowing a few drops of blood to come out. This has long been a treatment for releasing excess heat from the body that may be the cause of severe rashes, infections and high fevers, or severe cases of gastrointestinal syndromes. The rationale is that if there is heat in the body, releasing a very small volume of blood (a few drops to several millilitres) will help to disperse the heat as the blood carries the heat away, and a minuscule drop in blood volume releases the pressure in the area.
Physiologically, a loss of blood volume will stimulate erythropoiesis, the generation of new blood cells in the body and therefore an increased capacity for the tissues to receive oxygen and nutrients.
In TCM we have what are call Jing-Well points which are acupuncture points located on the tips of the fingers or toes. This is where Qi (vital force) is believed to be at its strongest and most vibrant in activity. Consequently, needling these points even without drawing blood is an effective treatment for releasing heat. Needling the corresponding Jing-Well point on the Lung channel LU-11 has long been used as an effected treatment for sore throats as it clears heat from the internal branch of the channel which passes through the throat.
Varicose and spider veins
Varicose veins occur when the valves inside the vein break down or malfunction causing a build up and back flow of blood. Over time, this blood accumulates and presses on the walls of the vein causing it to bulge and deteriorate even further, which then causes the discolouration and raised textures that may be visible on the surface of the skin. Spider veins (telangiectasia) occurs when some adverse factor compromises the integrity of the capillaries or veins and causes them to widen and create thread-like patterns on the skin.
Bleeding varicose veins or telangiectasia can be helpful in relieving any related pain, and reducing swelling and distention that may be present in the region. Over several treatments, discolouration can be reduced as well as aiding in the promotion of blood flow to the area. A stronger result can be achieved by placing a pressurised glass cup over the area to draw our more blood (read more below).
Also known by its traditional Arabic name Hijama, wet cupping is the practice of combining prick-to-bleed needle techniques with cupping. A pressurised cup is placed over the area being treated to first bring the blood to the surface. After the cup is removed, tiny incisions are made in the area to liberate the blood from the surface capillaries and then cup is then placed back over the area. The pressure of the cup draws blood out from the tiny incisions which pools in the cup and is disposed of at the end of the treatment.
In TCM, wet cupping has been used to treat stubborn aches and pains due to severe Qi and Blood stagnation in the channels. This may be helpful with longstanding conditions that do not respond to other types of treatments such as or old injuries that cause stiffness and limit range of motion, pain due to extended periods of maintaining poor posture, or pain and fatigue as a result protracted illness as a means of stimulating the body’s functions.
As stated before, a loss of blood volume will stimulate erythropoiesis, the generating of new blood cells in the body and an increased capacity for the tissues to receive oxygen and nutrients.
N.B. Wet cupping/ Hijama is available as a stand-alone service in 30 minute or 60 minute sessions, or is provided at no extra cost within an acupuncture or Tui Na treatment.