From babies to backache; what’s the lowdown on acupuncture?
If you keep up with health news, you won’t be surprised to hear that acupuncture is coming out as something of a health hero at the moment. It’s long been one of those therapies that’s been heralded as being wonderful for couples trying to conceive – in fact just recently there was an article in the Daily Mail about a couple in their forties who managed to conceive within six months of starting acupuncture.
I also spotted an article about a WW2 veteran who had been suffering from back pain since 1945 who considers himself completely cured through acupuncture. He was on 19 different painkillers every day for years but after trying acupuncture, doctors have taken him off all his medication and he told the Mail: “It’s been amazing. I feel like I’ve finally got my life back. I am 85 but I do not feel it.”
What’s a treatment like?
I have to confess that I’m a lover of most complementary therapies – I’ve qualified as a level II Reiki practitioner myself and I’m usually up for trying anything that promises to sort out my headaches, stress levels or occasional backaches without involving painkillers. I suffered from a lot of lower back pain around ten years ago, when I was working full time in an office. I used to have to spend two hours sitting down commuting to work, and another two hours commuting back, and then I’d sit all day in front of a computer and it really didn’t do me any good. I’d feel a dragging pain every time I stood up or sat down, all across my lower back, and walking started to get uncomfortable too.
I went to the doctor and was given ibuprofen to take three times a day and a set of exercises to try.
These didn’t really do a lot, and I didn’t like the idea of being on painkillers indefinitely either, so I decided to give a local acupuncturist a try. It was brilliant. I had six sessions, and although I’m not going to lie and say I enjoyed them, they really helped and I soon stopped needing the ibuprofen.
The therapist was lovely, it was a traditional Chinese acupuncture and she burned the ‘moxa’ herb as well, which is supposed to stimulate the circulation by warming up the areas being worked on. Most of the needles weren’t particularly uncomfortable, although I would usually have to grit my teeth as she inserted them in between my toes, and the one time she inserted a needle under my arm I yelped and almost fell off the couch. Apparently that signified a blockage. Ouch!
How does it work?
The reasoning behind acupuncture is that practitioners believe our energy, or 'life force', flows through the body in channels called meridians. When these meridians get blocked, the life-force can’t get through and it makes us ill. Acupuncture releases the energy by clearing the blockages. Some people also think it works because it helps to stimulate nerves and muscle tissues.
What’s it good for?
Acupuncture has actually been on the list of approved complementary therapies for some time, but only for lower back pain. According to the NHS it can also help with migraines and post-operative nausea. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence for acupuncture in other conditions, one of them being infertility, but there hasn’t been enough evidence for the NHS to admit it!
Overall, if you’re looking for a gentle way to relieve lower back pain, acupuncture is widely available and well worth a try. It’s hard to get funding on the NHS to cover it, although if you live in an enlightened area with an understanding PCT you might be in luck, but sessions aren’t hugely expensive anyway and consultations are often free. Most conditions need at least 3-6 treatments to have an effect.
I’d be interested to hear your experiences of acupuncture; has it worked for you?