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Acupuncture in St Helens               01744-22441 - Vimala's blog
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Pain Relief in the News...
Category acupuncture, drugs, knee pain, pain relief
Published:
Description: In the newspaper today:​- One half of Ant and Dec admitting addiction to prescription painkillers following a ‘botched’ knee operation. - Australian researchers conclude that acupuncture is just as effective as drugs in providing pain relief. Enough said! [...]   more...

In the newspaper today:

- One half of Ant and Dec admitting addiction to prescription painkillers following a ‘botched’ knee operation.

- Australian researchers conclude that acupuncture is just as effective as drugs in providing pain relief.

Enough said!

Natural Medicine
Category acupuncture, balance, chinese medicine, diet, drugs, healing
Published:
Description:  Patients often tell me that they don’t like taking pills – which is of course one of the reasons they may come and see me in the first place, in that they are seeking a way of healing and managing their health which is not dependent, or over-dependent, on pharmaceuticals. And you only have to read the list of possible side-effects of some  drugs to see why they might be reluctant to take them. (Only last week, in fact, common painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflamma [...]   more...
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Patients often tell me that they don’t like taking pills – which is of course one of the reasons they may come and see me in the first place, in that they are seeking a way of healing and managing their health which is not dependent, or over-dependent, on pharmaceuticals. And you only have to read the list of possible side-effects of some  drugs to see why they might be reluctant to take them. (Only last week, in fact, common painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories were in the news because of a link to increased risk of heart attack.)

Distrust of pharmaceuticals is also no doubt linked to a distrust of the people who make and market them, and again it is not difficult to find reasons for such distrust. Perhaps also sometimes there is even an uneasiness about western medical science, and even science itself, in general; sometimes there seems a kind of arrogance and hubris about this that rides rough-shod over the natural world, of which we are of course a part.

Such people are looking perhaps for what might be called a more natural form of medicine. I like the words of the doctor who was also the father of the poet W H Auden, who would tell his son that healing is not a science, but “the intuitive art of wooing nature.”  Healing, after all, is something that happens naturally all of the time, in that our bodies (and perhaps even our minds) will heal themselves given half the chance. If you catch a cold, you will usually get better in a few days, all other things being equal, without the need for any kind of medicine. If you pull a muscle, you will usually recover, at least if you are sensible. What medicine most often needs to be is something that supports and encourages this natural healing process; Mother Nature sometimes needs a little help, but it is more often than not she who is doing most of the healing, not us. Perhaps also a big part of such medicine is the encouraging and educating the patient to live in such a way that Mother Nature can best work her healing magic. Skimping on sleep, for instance, a modern vice, will make her ministrations less effective.

But what about acupuncture? On the face of it, not an especially natural thing  you might think. However, traditional acupuncture arose as part of a civilization with a world view rather less hubristic than the modern one, one which saw and sees mankind as part of the natural world, not above it. Medicine, in such a culture, is indeed a wooing of nature; acupuncture as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine is about restoring harmony and balance, gently coaxing our bodies back to how they were meant to be. Acupuncture is about stimulating and supporting our own natural healing processes.


Timor Mortis Conturbat Me
Category death, emotions, fear, phobia, thanatophobia
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Description: Occasionally over the years I have found myself treating someone who suffers from a fear of death, something technically known as thanatophobia. This is usually not someone in any imminent danger of dying, indeed they can be young and healthy; but they may find themselves repeatedly thinking about death and being terrified by it. And perhaps the more they try not to think about it, the more they do think about it.How should we think about such a problem? Is it a similar kind of thing to the vari [...]   more...
Occasionally over the years I have found myself treating someone who suffers from a fear of death, something technically known as thanatophobia. This is usually not someone in any imminent danger of dying, indeed they can be young and healthy; but they may find themselves repeatedly thinking about death and being terrified by it. And perhaps the more they try not to think about it, the more they do think about it.

How should we think about such a problem? Is it a similar kind of thing to the various other phobias we know of, such as social phobia, claustraphobia, and agoraphobia? After all, most people are afraid of death; in some ways it seems like a normal response. But of course most people do not give death a second thought, unless compelled by circumstance to do so.

I imagine that in the past, or in other cultures, someone with this problem would probably go to see a priest rather than a doctor, although maybe in such cultures the distinction between the two would not be so clear cut as it is in ours. Fear of death, one might say, is an existential or spiritual problem, not a medical one. It may even lie behind all or most of our more everyday fears. This is what the ancient Roman philosopher Epictetus had to say about the matter:

“Reflect that the chief source of all evils to man, and of all baseness and cowardice, is not death, but the fear of death. Against this, therefore, fortify yourself. To this let all your reasonings, your exercises and discourses tend. Then you shall know that by this alone are men made free.”

Being a practical philosopher, Epictetus no doubt had a tool kit of disciplines and exercises to help him erode the fear of death. Philosophical and spiritual traditions the world over have their own ways of dealing with the fear of death.

It may be that the root of all these practices is becoming more fully alive in the here and now; I rather think that we fear death to the extent that we are not yet fully alive. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore says,

“I know that I shall love death, because I have loved life.”

A caveat to all of this, though, is that we need to have enough emotional robustness and positivity to face and deal with the fear of death. My approach to treatment is along these lines – I want to help people not to become anaethetised to the fear of death (after all, such anaesthetics are not hard to come by in our world!) but to be calm and happy enough to begin to look death in the face.

In Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, there is to be seen, perhaps painted on a wall, an image called the ‘Wheel of Life’. This consists of a fearsome monster holding  up to us a large disc within which is depicted all the different kinds of creatures and how they circle repeatedly through various states of being. The monster is Yama, the Lord of Death. It is said, however, that as we grow as individuals, becoming happier, calmer and more compassionate, Yama stops looking so terrible. In fact he even becomes beautiful, and it turns out that he is not a monster after all. In the classical world of Greece and Rome, also, Thanatos, the god of death, was depicted as a beautiful winged boy, not unlike Cupid in fact. If we learn to live fully and contentedly, death is not so scary after all.

All the Time in the World
Category acupuncture, relaxation, stress
Published:
Description: ​If you come for acupuncture treatment I will usually ask you to remove your wrist watch, if you are wearing one. This is because I may want to take your pulse at the radial artery on both of your wrists, and also sometimes I may want to use one or two acupuncture points on or near the wrist. But there is also a symbolic significance to removing your watch.For most of us, clock-time rules our day. We have so many things to do, and we have to fit them in to a certain period of time. Often [...]   more...
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If you come for acupuncture treatment I will usually ask you to remove your wrist watch, if you are wearing one. This is because I may want to take your pulse at the radial artery on both of your wrists, and also sometimes I may want to use one or two acupuncture points on or near the wrist. But there is also a symbolic significance to removing your watch.

For most of us, clock-time rules our day. We have so many things to do, and we have to fit them in to a certain period of time. Often indeed some of us are trying to fit an impossible number of things in to a short interval; I can think of at least one current patient of mine whose job is a non-stop race against the clock, a race which she almost inevitably loses – too much to do in too short a space of time. In her case that is a situation imposed on her by the nature of her job, and perhaps the unrealistic expectations of her employers, but many of us impose something similar on ourselves, trying to cram a few more things into our waking hours. Sometimes even what we think of as our leisure time becomes like this.

I heard someone say recently that ‘stress is a perverted relationship to time’, which seems about right. So it is important sometimes to take off your watch (and turn off your phone) and experience a different kind of time for a while, or a different relationship to time – maybe a less perverted one. And it is not just removing your watch which enables this to happen; acupuncture treatment itself, which can be deeply relaxing, often evokes that different sense of time. No longer are you racing through the day, trying to beat the clock, no longer does every second count, no longer are you wanting to rush on to the next thing before you have really finished with the present one. Instead, you can luxuriate in a sense, almost, of timelessness, free from the oppression of the ticking clock. Time still passes, but in a different way, almost more slowly, or more spaciously. For a while, at least, you have all the time in the world.

What Is That Funny Feeling?
Category acupuncture, nerves, pain relief, qi
Published:
Description: People having their first experience of acupuncture are often surprised by the unusual sensations that sometimes come with the treatment. It is not what they expected; frequently there is a sensation around the needle variously described as ‘heavy’, ‘tingly’, ‘numb’, ‘dull’ or ‘achy’. It is not unpleasant, just strange, not a sensation we are familiar with, certainly nothing like accidentally piercing yourself with a sewing needle or s [...]   more...
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People having their first experience of acupuncture are often surprised by the unusual sensations that sometimes come with the treatment. It is not what they expected; frequently there is a sensation around the needle variously described as ‘heavy’, ‘tingly’, ‘numb’, ‘dull’ or ‘achy’. It is not unpleasant, just strange, not a sensation we are familiar with, certainly nothing like accidentally piercing yourself with a sewing needle or standing on a drawing pin, for instance.

What is this strange feeling?

In terms of (western) physiology, it usually follows from the stimulation of a certain kind of nerve. There are two kinds of nerves in our skin and muscle, motor nerves and sensory nerves. Motor nerves are responsible for messages going outwards from the central nervous system to the muscles, telling them to contract when we want to move. The other kind are called sensory nerves, and these send information inwards from the skin and muscle telling us something about what we are feeling and touching. Painful and pleasant feelings, sensations of touch and temperature, travel along these sensory nerves.

There are different types of sensory nerve, and the dull ache of acupuncture seems to arise when sensory nerves called A-delta nerves in the skin, and type II/III in the muscles, are stimulated by acupuncture needles.

When these nerves are stimulated, as well as our feeling that dull ache, several other things happen. One of these is the release into the area around the nerve of a number of chemicals called neuropeptides, some of which cause an increase in blood flow into the area, and even perhaps the formation of tiny new blood vessels there. This is of course useful if, for example, the area has been damaged, as an increase in blood flow will allow the body’s healing mechanisms to be more effective. This local increase in blood flow is just one of the ways acupuncture promotes healing.

Another result of stimulating the A-delta or II/III nerves occurs where these nerves join the spinal cord, and involves the production there of a substance called encephalin, which serves to block transmission of painful signals from that part of the spinal cord. This means that, in effect, the dull achy feeling occurs at the expense of any sharp painful feelings, which are as it were drowned out. These sharp painful feelings make it to the spinal cord, but they do not get as far as the brain – so we don’t feel them. This is one of the mechanisms which explain how acupuncture can be used for pain relief.

So for these and other reasons, that dull achy feeling is a good thing. It shows that treatment is stimulating the A-delta and II/III nerves, and setting in train a number of therapeutic effects.

In the theory behind traditional acupuncture, the dull achy feeling is associated with something called ‘deqi’ (pronounced de-chee). Deqi occurs when the patient’s Qi ‘arrives’ at the needle, or is ‘grasped’ by the needle. As such it is a sign that the needle is in the right place and is starting to have a therapeutic effect. Sometimes the acupuncturist themselves can tell that deqi has arrived by being sensitive to what he or she feels when the needle is inserted; typically deqi feels like a fish biting on a line as the patient’s Qi grabs the needle.
Sometimes only a very faint sensation experienced by the patient, or a quite subtle something felt by the acupuncturist is all that is needed. At other times stronger ‘deqi’ may be required, and the needle may be rotated or otherwise manipulated so that a good strong dull tingle or ache arrives. In general, the more sensitive the patient – both physically and emotionally – the more subtle the deqi required.

In The Mind?
Category anger, brain, chinese medicine, chronic fatigue, depression, emotions, healing, ibs, meditation, pain, tcm
Published:
Description: Recently someone showed me an article about chronic fatigue syndrome, which featured some research which suggested that the cause of this intractable problem might lie in the mind. This seemed to be a controversial idea, which some sufferers of chronic fatigue, and the umbrella groups representing them, bridled at. I have sometimes come across a similar touchiness when it is suggested (not by me!) that some medical condition or other may be caused by something going on in the mind.This touchines [...]   more...
Recently someone showed me an article about chronic fatigue syndrome, which featured some research which suggested that the cause of this intractable problem might lie in the mind. This seemed to be a controversial idea, which some sufferers of chronic fatigue, and the umbrella groups representing them, bridled at. I have sometimes come across a similar touchiness when it is suggested (not by me!) that some medical condition or other may be caused by something going on in the mind.

This touchiness may be due to the assumption that if something is in the mind, then it is not real. Perhaps if we have a problem which we are told is due to , say, some kind of bacterial infection, we may be reassured that we are not imagining we are ill, that we are not making it up. But if we are told that we have a problem whose origin may lie in the mind, suddenly we may feel on the spot. Is there really anything wrong with us? Are we just imagining it? Are we malingering? Suddenly we are assailed with such uncertainty that we can even doubt our actual experience. Am I really in pain? Am I really so tired?

(Similarly it is not uncommon to come across people suffering from mental health issues such as depression who have found comfort and reassurance in the idea that there is a physical root of their problem in an imbalance of certain neurochemicals in the brain. In fact this is an idea which is far from being conclusively proven, but perhaps it might be diplomatic, and even therapeutic, not to point this out!)

But this all begs the question, why should something in the mind be unreal? And come to that, what is the mind anyway? These days it is indeed fashionable to believe that the mind is reducible to various neurochemical and electrical events in the brain. This is the direction that science, and even western medicine, is moving in. Personally I don’t buy this at all, but it is clear that if you do hold this way of looking at the mind, you would interpret the idea that your health issue lay in your mind as really meaning that it lay in the brain, and that it did in fact therefore have a physical origin. In fact you would presumably believe that every aspect of your experience likewise really comes down to physical events happening in the brain. So it would be impossible for you, at least if you were going to be consistent, to take umbrage with any suggestion that an illness you had might have a mental or psychological origin.

But if like me you are not inclined to such a reductionist view of the mind, that still does not mean that you should equate ‘in the mind’ with unreal. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we don’t make a rigid distinction between mind and body; they are not two separate things, but rather two aspects of the same kind of thing (That ‘kind of thing’ is called Qi). The body is a less refined, as it were more condensed aspect, and the mind a more refined and less substantial aspect. In this view, there is no question of the mind being unreal; it is just more subtle.

Anyhow, it is clear from a cursory look at our experience that mind and body are closely interwoven. If I feel afraid, for instance, I might say the fear is in my mind, but I have a tight feeling also in my abdomen perhaps, or a sinking feeling, or something similar. My face may be a bit pale. If the fear is extreme, my body may shake and I may perspire freely. I might even, apparently, become incontinent! Is this something in the mind having a knock on effect on the body, or is the fear actually in the body? Is it possible to be afraid and for the body not to be affected? Even with just a slightly raised heartbeat for instance? Can we really separate the feeling of fear from its physical manifestations? Can we really separate the mind from the body, or the body from the mind?

Or consider the case of pain. If my knee hurts, the pain is in my knee. Or is it? If I am otherwise happy, the sun is shining and I have just won the lottery, my knee may hurt less. If its grey, wet and cold and I find my lottery ticket was invalid, my knee hurts more. You might say that it is not that it hurts less in the former instance, and more in the latter, but that it just bothers me less or bothers me more. But my actual experience is that the amount of pain varies with my mood. Pain is a complex thing, affected not just by some physical damage to my knee, but by a number of other factors, some of which lie in the mind. That’s why things like mindfulness and meditation can be useful tools in any pain management strategy.

So it seems that the more we think about it, the less certain we can be that the mind is separate from the body. And consequently is it not possible that the mind has a role in quite a lot of illnesses which we might think are physical, from irritable bowel syndrome to heart failure?

Another reason we may baulk at this idea is the suggestion that if the cause of an illness lies, at least to some degree, in the mind, is that we may conclude this makes us responsible for being ill. It is not just something unfortunate that happened to happen to us, like a bacterial infection or car crash. It is our fault. (Mind you, car crashes and bacterial infections can be our fault!)  But again surely we can question this. Are we any more or less responsible for our mind than for our body? Clearly there are many people who have mental or psychological problems which are obviously not their fault – think of someone who suffered an abusive childhood and suffers later on from anxiety and panic attacks; no one is going to say that is their fault. Or think of a soldier who has been in some terrible situations in a war zone and who later suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Is that his fault? Surely not. So similarly just because there might be something in our mind which is causing or contributing to a physical illness, that does not mean we are to blame. Our mind is not, after all, an isolated entity over which we have sole control, unaffected by the world around us. And since Freud and Jung we have been accustomed to the idea that there are large regions of our minds of which we are only dimly conscious, at best.

In TCM one of the main causes of illness is thought to be emotional imbalance. If we are always angry, for instance, or habitually fearful, or imprisoned by grief, eventually we may become ill. But it would be unkind in the extreme to say that this was our fault; often our emotions seem to have a life of their own, and sometimes a life of which we are only dimly aware. The person who is always angry may not realise he is so; he may rather have come to believe that the problem lies with all those infuriating people he has the misfortune to be associated with! The person who is habitually afraid my not know they are afraid; their responses seem to them to be normal and appropriate. These may be slightly extreme examples, but to some extent or other we are all like this.

So I would suggest that if we have some kind of physical illness, it is not impossible that some of the things causing that illness may lie in our mind. That does not mean the illness is not real, or that we are somehow at fault and to blame for it. It does perhaps present an opportunity to become more aware. To the extent that some hidden emotional habit is contributing to our illness, learning to become gradually more aware of that habit and its effect on our life and energy offers a way of healing. But in this we are no different, no more to blame, than anyone else – we all have such blind spots, such emotional biases which we are only vaguely aware of, parts of ourselves that lie in shadow. Sometimes it takes an illness to start to shine some light. To reject, out of hand, the possibility that an illness may have something of its origin in our mind may be to miss a big opportunity.

LIVING WITH PAIN?
Category acupuncture, arthritis, cupping, diet, exercise, gua sha, inflammation, joint pain, muscle pain, pain, pain relief, rheumatoid arthritis
Published:
Description:  Its striking how much pain people can put with it; older people especially are often resigned to a certain degree of suffering and get on with their lives in spite of it. Such a stoical attitude to pain is admirable and perhaps essential given that pain is, in one way or another, a fact of life.But on the other hand it can lead to unnecessary suffering if we are quietly putting up with a level of pain which can be alleviated. I used to notice this with my late father; in his old age he wo [...]   more...
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Its striking how much pain people can put with it; older people especially are often resigned to a certain degree of suffering and get on with their lives in spite of it. Such a stoical attitude to pain is admirable and perhaps essential given that pain is, in one way or another, a fact of life.

But on the other hand it can lead to unnecessary suffering if we are quietly putting up with a level of pain which can be alleviated. I used to notice this with my late father; in his old age he would occasionally complain about aches and pains, but at the same time he wasn’t too interested in doing anything about them. It seemed he felt it was easier to just put up with it.
However, if you don’t want to just grin and bear it, there is always something you can do to help with pain. This is even, or especially, the case if you have a chronic pain condition or widespread osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis or something similar. Whilst it may not be realistic to think in terms of eradicating the pain completely (although miracles have been known to happen!), pain can be managed.

Quite often it seems we have an ‘all or nothing’ approach to these things, which doesn’t go well with something like chronic pain, as it may lead us to conclude that if the pain cannot be cured or eradicated, there is nothing to be done about it. There is always something that can be done. Usually quite a lot of things.

To start with, there are numerous ways of alleviating pain, reducing its intensity, making it more manageable and bearable. Painkilling medications are what most of us reach for first of all, but they are often not the most effective, or the most suitable from the point of view of side-effects. Acupuncture and related treatments such as cupping and gua sha can make a big difference for many painful conditions. I remember treating a chap who had been enduring some serious hip pain for some time, which had been diagnosed as being due to osteoarthritis. Like my father he was someone who was resigned to just putting up with the pain, perhaps until he eventually had a hip replacement operation, but his sister was a regular patient of mine and she persuaded him to come in for treatment.  Surprisingly for him, and I must admit for me too given the diagnosis, the pain more or less disappeared after one treatment. It stayed disappeared too; normally one would expect a chronic arthritic pain would need several treatments to reduce the pain considerably and keep it at bay.

Maybe the diagnosis of osteoarthritis was incorrect, or perhaps he did have that but it was not the source of the pain  [scans don’t show causality; a scan might show you have an arthritic joint, but it is really an assumption that the arthritic joint is causing any pain you might be feeling. After all plenty of people are shown to have arthritis who are not in pain]. More than likely in this case the pain was due to muscle tension, which can be readily relieved by acupuncture and cupping. Anyhow, his case illustrates that its not always necessary to put up with pain.

As well as getting some treatment, whether medication, acupuncture, or something else, there are numerous things you can do yourself to help both decrease pain, and to manage what pain there is better. These will augment the treatment you are getting and help you keep the initiative with your health, rather than becoming a helpless victim of pain.  Off the top of my head, here are a few suggestions:
 
  • Attend to your diet. If your pain includes inflammation, as it often will, you would be well advised to cut down on processed and fast food, things like crisps and sweets and sugary drinks, all of which seem to increase inflammation. (Basically, your body interprets such foods as mild poisons and ramps up its defence system, which includes an inflammatory response which will make any inflammation already present increase.) Eating something like the Mediterranean diet is a good way of making sure that what goes down your throat isn’t exacerbating the pain in your knee, hip, back or wherever it is.
  • If you have joint or muscle pain, perhaps you might benefit from gently massaging a suitable liniment into the painful area. You could try Tiger Balm, a cheap traditional Chinese medical balm (not made from tigers – its just a brand name!). Use white Tiger Balm if the painful area is warm and inflamed, red Tiger Balm otherwise.
  • Get suitable exercise. What counts as suitable will obviously vary from person to person, and pain to pain. You might need specialist advice, but you can also learn from your experience if you are sensible and use your intuition. Learn to listen to what your body is telling you.
  • Look into the cultivation of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the current fad with people looking for pain relief as well as and with people looking to cope with the stresses of modern life, but it is something with a long history – people have been practising it for at least 2,500 years! It might just revolutionise your experience of pain (and possibly the rest of your life as well!)
  • Something as simple as a bit of warmth from a hot water bottle can sometimes ease your pain. Protecting painful areas from cold, wind and rain when you go out sounds like common sense, but common sense isn’t always so common. Draughts from air conditioning also should be avoided.
  • Pay attention to your posture; pain may be your body’s way of complaining about the way you are sitting, standing or constantly bending over your phone.
  • Enjoy yourself! That may not be an option if the pain is severe, but otherwise its surprising how much you can forget about your pain if you are having a good time; and in fact it may not be just that you are not noticing it, but that the pain is actually lessened.
Not all of these will help each individual, and it may take some time to find ways that benefit your particular pain. Of course it may sound daunting to make changes to your diet, the way you sit, what exercise you take etc. etc, but you need to recognise that pain is telling you that something is not right and something needs to change. It might be inconvenient, but that’s life. Don’t be fooled, for example by watching all those TV adverts in which everyone is happy and healthy (if a little unreal) into thinking that pain is not a fact of life. Some people get a lot of it, some people not so much, but that can change within a day, an hour, a heartbeat. It doesn’t take long for an RTA to happen for instance.

Which brings us back to the stoic endurance of the older generation. We are likely to need that ability to put up with pain at some point in our lives, it doesn’t need to be our only resource. Learning to deal with pain is part of the art of living well.

A Traditional Remedy for Chronic Inflammation?
Category acupuncture, ankle sprain, arthritis, auto-immune, depression, fibromyalgia, gua sha, inflammation, lungs, muscle pain, rheumatoid arthritis
Published:
Description: ‘Inflammation’ is a word we hear more and more of these days. Many chronic diseases seem to involve inflammation, and if we are taking painkillers, they may well be anti-inflammatories. Some foods are now thought to combat inflammation, whilst others make it worse; people speak of an anti-inflammatory diet. But as with all words that we use a lot, it may pay to stop and ask ourselves whether we really know what they mean.First and foremost, inflammation, far from being a bad thing w [...]   more...
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‘Inflammation’ is a word we hear more and more of these days. Many chronic diseases seem to involve inflammation, and if we are taking painkillers, they may well be anti-inflammatories. Some foods are now thought to combat inflammation, whilst others make it worse; people speak of an anti-inflammatory diet. But as with all words that we use a lot, it may pay to stop and ask ourselves whether we really know what they mean.

First and foremost, inflammation, far from being a bad thing we should try to get rid of, is a key part of the healing process. If we injure ourselves, perhaps spraining our ankle or banging our elbow, our body will naturally increase the blood flow to the injured area, which of course makes it look red and feel warm (blood being red and warm!) Local blood vessels will become more porous, which leads to fluid leaking out of them and causing some swelling. So the area of the injury becomes warm, red and swollen - Inflamed. Similarly if we catch the ‘flu, inflammation is part of the body’s immune response to the ‘flu virus, which is the reason why we ache all over; there is some inflammation going on in our muscles and joints.

So the inflammatory process is part of the way our body both protects itself, for example by attacking any invading microorganisms, and if necessary initiating tissue repair. In the case of the sprained ankle, it also usually forces us to rest the injured area, which is what is required: pain has its purpose
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This raises an interesting question as to whether anti-inflammatory treatment, as with anti-inflammatory drugs, is always an entirely good idea. If the inflammatory process is part of the way the body protects and heals itself, then are we not impairing that protection and healing if we take anti-inflammatories? Probably it is a matter of striking a balance: if such drugs take the edge off a severe pain that is driving us up the wall and stopping us sleeping, then fair enough; but if we become accustomed to taking anti-inflammatories at the slightest hint of discomfort, we should ask ourselves if we really know what we are doing. It’s also worth remembering that pain is information; it is telling us, for instance, to rest or avoid putting weight on an injured ankle. Just wiping out any pain as soon as it arises is to ignore potentially useful, even vital, information.

However, whilst inflammation is normally a good thing, if uncomfortable, it can sometimes get out of hand. This is what happens, for instance, in some auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis; the inflammatory response is switched on despite the absence of any real injury, because the immune system mistakenly identifies some of the body’s’ own tissues as enemies to be attacked. And once it is on, it stays on, or keeps getting switched on. So inflammation, which is normally a good thing, becomes a distinct pain in the neck and in a lot of other places as well.

So we can distinguish between acute and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation is the body’s natural short-term response to an injury or infection; chronic inflammation arises when that response becomes constant or recurring in the absence of an injury or infection. As well as auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and Crohns’disease, chronic inflammation is thought to be a factor in a wide range of other problems such including asthma, diabetes, some forms of cancer and even depression. 
Dealing with chronic inflammation is not easy. Anti-inflammatory drugs may sometimes help, but they are far from being the answer, not least because of their unfortunate side-effects. However, given that inflammation has been going on, for better or for worse, for the entire history of the human race, it might be worth asking about traditional remedies for excessive or chronic inflammation. Traditional Chinese Medicine, for instance, has a number of such strategies, not least because of its association with martial arts, whose devotees are obviously prone to the odd traumatic injury. But perhaps the most valuable of these treatments is something called Gua Sha.

Gua Sha is a type of massage in which a special tool (but sometimes not so special – people use jam jar lids and coins, amongst other things!) is used to scrape along the surface of the part of the body in question, subsequent to the application of a suitable massage oil. This typically produces a pattern of small red dots under the skin called petechiae, which are in fact small traces of blood which have been temporarily forced out of tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin. In a short period of time these fade into a general redness, which gradually disappears over the next few hours or days as the blood returns to the blood vessels.

This has been traditionally used throughout East Asia to treat a wide variety of problems including musculoskeletal injury, bronchitis, the common cold and fever. Modern research is revealing that along with an increase in local circulation gua sha produces an anti-inflammatory effect. This effect is present not just in the surface tissue where the treatment has been applied, but reaches down into deeper levels of the body, right to the organ systems. So for instance, gua sha applied to the upper back can combat inflammation in the lungs, which is why it can be used to treat inflammatory lung problems such as bronchitis and asthma. Applied over the surface of the body in the vicinity of the liver, it is used in China to treat both chronic and acute hepatitis (inflammation of the liver).
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So, if you come for acupuncture treatment for any condition that involves inflammation , but especially chronic inflammation, don’t be surprised if we suggest gua sha as a treatment option in addition to acupuncture.  You will need to be aware (and we will make sure you are!) that the skin in the area of treatment will be temporarily altered in appearance, perhaps as much as in the above picture, which may mean the treatment is contraindicated for glamour models and people wanting to show their body off on a beach holiday. But if you are one of those people who suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis, Crohn’s disease, and pelvic inflammatory disease, you can probably put up with a patch of temporary redness for a few days. 

Heart Worries
Category acupuncture, heart, tcm, yin
Published:
Description: If your GP were to tell you that there was something wrong with your heart, you would probably be worried; perhaps more worried than if they told you there was something wrong with your kidneys or your liver, for instance. A heartbeat is a tangible sign of life in a way that a liver or kidney function is not, important as those things are. And traditionally, of course, our heart is us, it’s the centre of our being. No matter how sophisticated our understanding of modern physiology, maybe [...]   more...
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If your GP were to tell you that there was something wrong with your heart, you would probably be worried; perhaps more worried than if they told you there was something wrong with your kidneys or your liver, for instance. A heartbeat is a tangible sign of life in a way that a liver or kidney function is not, important as those things are. And traditionally, of course, our heart is us, it’s the centre of our being. No matter how sophisticated our understanding of modern physiology, maybe we still feel this centrality of the heart. And anyway, if our heart were to stop beating, that would be it.  So no wonder that any indication that our heart may not be in tip top condition may cause us not inconsiderable anxiety.

If, therefore,  a traditional acupuncturist tells you that you are suffering from something like” Heart Yin deficiency” or “Heart Qi deficiency”, you may well  start to worry. But you needn’t.

The Heart in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is not the same thing as the heart as understood by western medicine – we capitalise the ‘H’ at the beginning of the word to make the distinction. In TCM organs like the Heart are defined by a set of functions, only some of which overlap with the corresponding organ as understood by western medicine. In particular the Heart of TCM is considered to house the “Shen”, or Spirit, so problems such as anxiety, restlessness or insomnia may well be attributed to the Heart, for example with a diagnosis of “Heart Yin deficiency”. Most people with Heart Yin deficiency will not having anything wrong with their heart that western medicine would pick up.

Also relevant here is an important difference between western medicine and TCM when it comes to diagnosis, which becomes obvious if we look at the way they understand health. Health in western medicine is the absence of disease, whereas in TCM it is a state of harmony and balance. If, for example, you have a routine check-up with your GP, you may get a clean bill of health (let’s hope so!) Sometimes even you may go to your GP because you are not feeling good, and all the tests are negative, so that despite your subjective experience, there is nothing wrong with you; there is no positive diagnosis. If, on the other hand, you were to see a traditional acupuncturist, it would be rather unlikely that you will be found to be in perfect internal harmony; inevitably there will be some subtle signs and symptoms showing just a small imbalance somewhere, perhaps having its origin in your inherited constitution or in your lifestyle.  And the more skilful the acupuncturist, the more able they will be to pick these imbalances up; in the case of something like Heart Yin deficiency, at the beginning they may just manifest as an almost imperceptible vague anxiety and  a slight ‘thready’ quality on your pulse.  These imbalances are important because they may over time become more pronounced, and the acupuncturist will want to help you prevent this happening;  it is much easier to restore harmony and balance when there is just a slight deviation than when it has become more marked.

So just because you may have Heart Yin deficiency, for instance, there is no need to worry. It doesn’t mean you are on the verge of a cardiac arrest. But more to the point, is there ever any need to worry? A Buddhist text tells us that if we are worrying about something, we should ask ourselves whether there is anything we can do about the situation. If there is, we should quit worrying and get on and do it. If there is nothing we can do, worrying will make no difference anyway, so we may as well not bother with worrying. Easier said than done; worry can be a deeply ingrained habit. Quite a few people tell me they are “born worriers”, and are clearly of the opinion that nothing is going to change that.

Nevertheless, worrying about our health, whether because a well-meaning acupuncturist tells us we have a little bit of Heart Yin deficiency, or because of the latest health scare in the Daily Mail, puts us in a catch-22 position, because at least from the perspective of TCM, prolonged or excessive worry will actually make us ill! Although we can perhaps take some consolation from the fact that according to TCM, worry tends to mostly effect the Spleen and the Lungs, rather than the Heart! 


Quick Fix?
Category Uncategorized
Published:
Description: It is significant that the word for someone having medical attention is a ‘patient’. This is something which in our modern world of the quick fix, where the virtue of patience is perhaps neglected, should give us pause. Of course if we are young, strong and healthy, we can recover from a minor injury or a common cold quickly enough, but if we are not so young, or not so healthy, or we have a relatively serious affliction, we may need to be patient with ourselves. Mother nature wil [...]   more...
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It is significant that the word for someone having medical attention is a ‘patient’. This is something which in our modern world of the quick fix, where the virtue of patience is perhaps neglected, should give us pause.

Of course if we are young, strong and healthy, we can recover from a minor injury or a common cold quickly enough, but if we are not so young, or not so healthy, or we have a relatively serious affliction, we may need to be patient with ourselves. Mother nature will heal us, but she cannot be hurried.

There are, however, things we can do to help her along. For instance,

1.       We can get enough rest. Sleep is a necessary part of life, and even more so if we are recovering. It allows us to heal and recharge our batteries, so we should not skimp on it if we can help it, especially at this time. The fact that we do, generally, get better from illness or injury, is pretty miraculous if you think about it. If your car breaks down, you can’t just leave mend itself. If the roof of your house starts leaking, it won’t repair the damage itself. Yet the human body will, often, repair itself. It will at least try to do so. So give it some support and get some rest whilst the magic happens.

More specifically, it is often necessary to rest an injury to let it heal. This is probably the purpose of an injury being painful – the pain is a message saying, “Stop! Healing time needed!” I notice this when I’m treating someone with something like tennis elbow. If the owner of the elbow does not stop trying to play tennis with it, or use a computer mouse with it, or whatever it is that has led to the injury, it is the devil’s own job trying to cure the problem.

2.       We need to get appropriate exercise. This is the flip side of the above of course. We may need to strike a balance between rest and movement. Even if we are quite debilitated, a gentle potter round the garden or a slow walk to the shops (weather permitting) may help move things along. We need to be sensitive to ourselves; let’s not overdo it, but not be too lazy either.

3.      We can get some treatment. Treatment should be about giving Mother Nature a helping hand, not shoving her out of the way in the interests of a quick fix that causes more trouble than it is worth in the long run. Medicine should be, as someone once said, the ‘intuitive art of wooing nature’.

And of course, we need patience. Impatience can be costly; someone who drives themselves back to work too quickly after illness can end up with year’s of trouble. This sometimes seems to be the origin of intractable illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome. Nowadays, perhaps, we may think that we are technologically sophisticated enough to be able to override nature and fix the damage instantly. We aren’t.



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