Acupuncture Intro, how it Works and What it can Treat

Acupunturist needles on a traditional Chinese medicine medallion

Acupuncture has a history spanning thousands of years. Some of the earliest text recorded containing discussions of both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine date as far back as 474 B.C.!

Acupuncture is simply the painless insertion of sterile, single use needles into the body to stimulate the bodies self-healing mechanism. Our understanding of how this works is evolving all the time.

But what is known is that Acupuncture releases pain killing endorphins in the brain, stimulates the nervous system and can even increase the production of white blood cells (the immune system).

Although Acupuncture has many clinical uses, it is probably best known for the treatment of pain, regardless of the cause.

In Australia, a trained Acupuncturist must undergo a minimum of 4 years full time study, including substantial training in Western medicine with subjects like Chemistry, Pharmacology, human Anatomy and Biology. Bachelor of Health Science trained Acupuncturists must complete that same level of science as an undergraduate medical student.

Acupuncture is a wholistic medicine, which means you are supposed to treat the WHOLE PERSON. For example, if a patient comes to my clinic complaining of shoulder pain, I treat them from a whole-body perspective. This means I still need to ask them about their sleep, stomach, bowel habits, headaches ect… as we treat the PERSON first and the CONDITION second, or at least I do.

Obviously, I need to try and get them results for the shoulder pain, which is the reason they came to my clinic to begin with. But pain is a symptom, not the cause. My job as an Acupuncturist is to identify the cause and treat that, not just apply a band-aid to reduce the pain for a short time.

Acupuncture is practised in many different ways, depending on where the practitioner has been trained and how they developed their practise.

I personally use a specific style of Acupuncture called ‘The Balance Method’ which involves understanding the interconnections of the body. This can be confusing for patients because I never insert needles anywhere near the location of their pain, and quite often use the opposite side of the pain! I practise this way because the results are far superior and the patient often feels immediate improvement in pain, which is not possible with local needling.

This is my 10th year of clinical practise, and I have only been using ‘The Balance Method’ for the last two years. Although it is a more advanced style of Acupuncture, the results can be spectacular, and it has revolutionized my clinical practise.

Pain is not the only complaint I see in clinic, and this style is highly effective for many health conditions. If you would like to know whether Acupuncture can assist your health complaint, please contact me at the clinic.

High quality herbal granules I use in my clinic. Herbs treat many conditions. Simply add boiling water, stir and make into tea, and drink. Simple!

An example of Acupuncture in the hand, sterile needles are single use. These two points called Ling Ku and Da Bai are powerful and have many applications in the clinic for pain relief and many other conditions.

Combating Cortisol Without Quitting Your Job!

Woman stretching

We have all experienced stress, but did you know it could be causing you a number of other health related complaints?

UP TO 90% OF ALL DOCTOR’S OFFICE VISITS ARE DUE TO STRESS-RELATED AILMENTS!

The stress hormone, cortisol, could be causing your moodiness, daytime fatigue, insomnia, persistent infections, sugar cravings, as well as the excess weight around your waist you can never seem to shift despite hours spent at the gym.

During periods of acute stress, your adrenal glands release increased levels of cortisol to help the body cope with physical or psychological stressors. Cortisol is responsible for maintaining normal blood sugar levels, regulation of carbohydrate, protein and lipid metabolism, participates in immune and/or inflammatory reactions, as well as influencing the heart and blood vessels. In the short run, it’s great – even protective and restorative.

However, problems develop when your relentlessly busy lifestyle forces the adrenal glands to be on constant “high alert” resulting in a continual elevation of cortisol.

PERSISTENTLY ELEVATED LEVELS OF CORTISOL CAUSE:

Anxiety & depression

Fatigue and weakness

Weight gain, particularly around the waist

Insomnia

Lowered sex drive

High blood pressure

Insulin resistance

Weakened immunity

Thyroid imbalance

If stress persists and your adrenals are required to constantly respond, they will eventually struggle to produce cortisol, which could ultimately lead to adrenal exhaustion. Although we may not always be able to reduce the immediate stressor (I would suggest taking a holiday if you can!), the good news is there are many steps you can start today to normalise cortisol levels and restore healthy adrenal function.

LIFESTYLE RECOMMENDATIONS:

Aim to have regular breaks throughout your day, even a 5 minute walk outside of the office can help dramatically

Exercise regularly, but not excessively

Regular bed time, ideally before 10pm

Regular relaxation & breathing exercises

Share enjoyable time and laugh with friends & family

Focus on a better balance between work, rest, and play

 DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS:

5-6 serves of vegetables, and 1-2 serves of fruit per day

Eat good quality protein, especially for breakfast & lunch

Eat mostly homemade foods that are nutrient-dense and nourishing. Do a “Sunday cook-up” for the weeks lunches

Use quality cold-pressed oils e.g. olive, walnut, almond, flaxseed & coconut

Avoid energy robbers such as alcohol and caffeine

Increase vitamin C rich foods – orange, red and yellow varieties

Avoid acidic foods such as hydrogenated fats, refined carbohydrates & sugars

Drink filtered water – 8 to 10 glasses per day

If you have been experiencing stress and suspect your cortisol levels may be out of balance, a visit to our naturopaths is your answer. They will formulate a treatment plan specific to your needs, and through the use of herbal medicine, nutrition and lifestyle factors, you will achieve great results!

Chronic Pain & the Nervous System

Acupuncture needles on stone

Acute pain is usually caused by an injury to our body, and should resolve once healing has occurred. However, sometimes pain persists. When pain continues with no apparent physical reason for it, this indicates that there is no longer just a problem with the body, but there may also be a problem with the nervous system.

Types of Chronic Pain:

  1. Pain that persists after an injury
  2. Ongoing tension pain such as in the back, hip or neck
  3. Ongoing pain due to physical problems. For example: arthritis, degeneration, tumour growth and nerve impingement

All types of chronic pain involve changes in the nervous system. If pain persists, nerves get used to being excited, become more easily activated, releasing more pain chemicals and can sensitise an area so that pain is experienced more easily, even when there is only light touch or small movement, or an increase in stress. (Pearson, 2014)

Pain is a signal that something is dangerous to the body, and its purpose is to stop you doing whatever it is that you are doing. Pain is a strong deterrent, but pain can be disproportionate to an injury or damage and can recur when there is no longer a danger or injury. It’s important to consult with your health practitioner to ensure that there’s nothing wrong in your body that requires immediate attention. If you’ve been given the go ahead you can then explore alternative ways to manage or resolve this pain.

Acupuncture is an excellent treatment for pain – acute and chronic, as is massage and all modalities of bodywork. Bodywork practices help to release tight muscles, help the client connect to their bodies the present moment, and free up the movement of qi and blood.

My Clinical Experience Treating Pain

For 15 years I have seen clients present with different types of enduring pain like sciatica, back or neck pain, and have found that they respond well to shiatsu, cupping and acupuncture. However, often their symptoms return in a week or two. At first, I didn’t understand this. Week after week, year after year I was treating their symptoms, yet I became aware that I wasn’t making a permanent difference. Intuitively I sensed that I was just working on their physical issues, and that their tension patterns were the result of their emotional state, posture, and childhood experiences.

Similarly, I found my own chronic hip pain getting worse with stress which I believe was related to my childhood – the terrible fighting with my brother that had gone on for so many years. As a result of this my body had become chronically braced in a fight response, ready to defend myself. This tension started in the psoas muscle on the right, then pulled my pelvis into a twist, resulting in sacroiliac pain. Osteopathy and other therapies could realign my pelvis, even temporarily release the psoas, but within a few days it’d all be back again.

Trauma – Often an Underlying Cause of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is more likely to occur when there is significant prolonged stress or a history of trauma. Both pain and trauma affect the nervous system and the brain as both are responsible for our experience of pain. Therefore, in order to resolve chronic pain, we need to address this level of our being.

Trauma can be understood as an experience where we felt threatened, or our life is at risk, and we could not overcome the threat. For example, a child who is bullied by a parent or a gang of kids at school. The threat is too big for them to cope with and the SNS (fight/flight-action response) is engaged but cannot be completed (cannot fight or flee the threat). This triggers the nervous system into overwhelm (freeze response) and the charge is suppressed but held in the body to be dealt with at a later time, when it is safe. But that safe time may not happen. We have also been conditioned to “get on with it” and “get over it” and so do not give ourselves the time and space needed to address and release a stressful experience.

We have all experienced feelings of overwhelmed in our lives, and they can add up creating low grade stress under the surface. If we don’t allow our body to release these “charges” under the surface we may find ourselves chronically stressed, anxious or depressed as it takes a lot of energy to hold these in. This also makes us more likely to experience chronic pain, as well as other illnesses.

The Pain Cycle

One of the most important factors in chronic muscular pain is the unresolved fight/flight/freeze (trauma) reaction. The unreleased muscle tensing leads to pain, which in turn leads to fear and more bracing, which leads to more pain. (Levine & Phillips, 2012)

So, how do we begin to let go of trauma from our body and nervous system?

Firstly, it is important to understand how the nervous system works. This needs more than a few sentences to explain properly but there are many books and articles that explore this in depth. Please refer to resources list at the end of this article.

Tools and Techniques to Reset and Rewire the Nervous System:

  1. Body Awareness exercises – these include mindfulness meditations, yoga, Pilates, conscious dance, walking or gentle movement with awareness, noticing the pain but focusing more on any pleasure or good feelings in the body
  2. Calm Breathing – there are many exercises available online, but the emphasis should be on gradually taking longer breaths, then making them smoother and softer. (Neil Pearson 2014)
  3. Vagus Nerve Exercises – my favourite is sounding “Ahhh” at the heart centre for at least three repetitions and then noticing the body. Do you feel calmer or more activated? Then sounding “Ooooh” at the belly – just below the navel. Again, notice the sensations in the body after three or more sounds. Complete by resting one palm over the heart and the other over the belly. Tell yourself you are there for you, right now.
  4. TRE® (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) may be appropriate for you. Also seeing a somatic-focused counsellor, or craniosacral therapist may help.

I used all of the above tools and techniques in my recovery from chronic hip pain.

If you are suffering with chronic pain, I recommend you address it from three levels – the body, the mental/emotional, and the nervous system. Try and find a therapist who has some awareness of how the nervous system affects pain. You need to find someone you feel safe with and heard by, so your nervous system can relax, which is half the work. There will also be many daily self-practices which may be challenging but rewarding.

Perhaps the pain you experience can be seen as an opportunity to bring you more into the present and into your body, and closer to your feelings. You may resolve old emotional traumas, improve existing relationships and grow as a human being.

Herbal Teas at Home

Selection of traditional Chinese herbs

By Adam Haysom-McDowell – B.HSc (TCM), Dip.RM, Dip. Fitness (Specialist)
Annandale Chinese Medicine

Herbal Teas at Home

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), herbs are used in many ways. Often decocted in a pot to make a medicinal soup, or dried and offered as powder or pills. At times, I will prescribe simple medicinal teas for mild complaints. Nearly every herb can be viewed from a TCM perspective and you may have medicinal herbs growing in your garden, or in your cupboard right now! Other than being a great tasting cuppa, understanding how herbs are used medicinally can really increase their benefits. Let’s look at a few of examples.

 

One herb commonly used in TCM is mint (bo he / menthae haplocalysis). Everyone knows the strong flavour of mint and there are many varieties. The species mostly used in TCM is field mint. Peppermint (menthe x piperita) is similar though not used as often. Mint’s cooling properties are used to disperse wind-heat which is one way we view the cause of a sore throat and headache. Mint is also used for stomach aches, reducing feelings of stress and relaxing aching muscles (especially around the sides / ribs).

 

 

 

While mint is cooling, fresh ginger (sheng jiang / zingiber officinale) is warming. Ginger tea has been widely studied for its ability to calm an upset stomach and reduce nausea, and is a safe option for morning sickness. With its traditional use for the common cold caused by wind-cold, ginger’s warming properties can induce sweating. So it’s best not to consume if you have a fever where sweating is already present.

 

 

 

Our last example, one of my personal favourites, is not as common in Australian cupboards, but widely available in Chinese supermarkets. You may have enjoyed a pot of Chrysanthemum tea (ju hua / flos chrysanthemum morifolii) at your favourite yum cha restaurant. It has a lovely sweet floral flavour, is cooling, and as TCM views it as calming the liver. It is often used for headaches with dry red eyes, especially if brewed with dried goji berries (gou qi zi / lycii fructus).  Even some cooled chrysanthemum tea on a cotton pad placed on the eyes is a wonderful way to sooth sore eyes.

 

Enjoy your medicinal teas, but please remember that the description of symptoms listed above are from a TCM perspective, rather than Western Medical advice. Of course, herbs taken as teas are generally very safe, however if you have a known medical condition, or are unsure if a particular herb is suitable, please consult with your qualified healthcare practitioner.

About the Author: Adam Haysom-McDowell

Adam is a nationally registered Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Herbalist, qualified with a Bachelor of Health Science (TCM), Diploma of Remedial Massage and a Diploma of Fitness (Personal Training). Adam is also a qualified Infant Massage Therapist and Instructor. With over 10 years experience working in both multi-modality (physiotherapy, chiropractic) and private clinics, Adam brings an integrative approach to his Chinese Medicine practice.

Clients of all ages in Sydney’s Inner West come to Adam for any number of reasons. Whether it’s back pain, a sporting injury, allergies, trouble sleeping, stress, anxiety or even a desire to cease smoking, Adam will utilise any combination of acupuncture, herbal medicine, Chinese remedial therapies (e.g. cupping, gua sha) and remedial massage in your treatment regime.

Listening to you and working with you, Adam will take into consideration recent clinical research along with his vast clinical experience in order to develop an individual treatment plan to suit your needs. If you are unsure how Chinese Medicine could help you, don’t hesitate to get in contact today.

To find out more visit and connect with Annandale Chinese Medicine online:
Website: www.annandalechinesemedicine.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/adamchinesemedicine
Instagram:@annandalechinesemedicine

 

Insights from an Acupuncturist

Acupuncture needles on a Chinese medallion and paper background

Jason Warman was introduced to Chinese Medicine over 15 years ago through his passion of martial arts. Having studied Chinese Medicine at the New Zealand School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Jason now specialises in treating all types of pain disorders, including; musculoskeletal complaints, sports injuries and rehab, skin conditions, stress and anxiety, insomnia, digestive complaints, women’s health and pregnancy wellbeing.

He is currently practicing at Coastal Community Acupuncture, where he applies a wide range of acupuncture styles from traditional five-element acupuncture, sports medicine acupuncture and the traditional Tung’s family acupuncture.

How did you get into natural medicine and why?

 When I was really young, I had a bad reaction to conventional medicine and had to be hospitalised for a few days. Even though it was a long time ago, it stuck with me and made an impression.

Growing up in the United States, I was taught a lot about the use of plants and nature as medicine from the Native American culture. When I was 17, I was introduced to Chinese Medicine through martial arts, which lead me to do training with a Chinese herbalist.

Can you tell me a bit about your chosen therapy and how it benefits people?

My goal is to help people feel their best. Acupuncture is good for pain relief and calms the nervous system when stress, anxiety, and poor mental health occur. 40% of the patients I see are dealing with pain from an injury, old or new. 20 – 30% are for mental health issues like stress and anxiety, and the remainder varies from digestion issues (like food allergies) to chronic illnesses to fertility to pregnancy health and general wellbeing.

Why are you passionate about Chinese Medicine and acupuncture?

I’m passionate about Chinese Medicine because it is the oldest recorded medicine in the world and has proven itself to be a powerful form of healing the body for centuries. I still get surprised by how effective it can be in the clinic.

Many people are turning towards natural medicines because they are often intolerant to their prescribed medications or they don’t want to deal with the side effects of it.

I’ve been doing this now for over 15 years and to me, it feels like we’re the underdogs of the medical industry. In Australia, Chinese Medicine is the only AHPRA registered modality that’s still not part of the Medicare scheme. We get a lot of people with health plans from their GPs, but we can’t offer the service to them because it’s not Medicare covered.

This is why I run a community acupuncture clinic, which offers affordable health care for everyone.

Do you have any tips for what to expect or ask when visiting an acupuncturist?

Patients should expect an accredited practitioner to explain the treatment and describe what they will experience throughout the treatment. For instance, when I see new clients and they’re Chinese, it’s part of the culture. Everyone grows up with the concept so there’s not much fear of the pins. However, for western culture, medical needles have bad connotations as being quite uncomfortable and painful and a lot of people develop phobias from it. That’s why I don’t call them needles; I call them pins because they are very small.

Generally, the person will feel a sensation, but it’s should be a sensation that is bearable and comfortable. The most common sensation will be a bit of an ache or distending sensation. If it’s uncomfortable then it’s not therapeutic and the practitioner should be there to help change that discomfort for them.

Do you have a successful client story you’d like to share?

There’s a lot of people that have come to me as a last resort. They have been everywhere, tried everything and nothing has helped. Once tried, many have experienced miraculous results because it’s so effective.

Currently, I think a lot of what we’re dealing with is hyper-sensitive nervous systems and a lot of people stuck in that sympathetic fight or flight state. It’s creating a lot of these modern epidemics that we’re dealing with and acupuncture is so good at calming down the nervous system and dealing with chronic diseases.

What would be the most common health issues that somebody would come to you with? You mentioned mental health, pain, or anxiety, are they the sort of things people come to you with?

People come to me with a variation of things as acupuncture is a whole medical system which is designed to help treat any ailment, but almost everyone is dealing with some level of anxiety. What’s sad is that even a lot of kids that I’m treating have anxiety, and this is a huge crisis that we need to look at from all medical perspectives on why this is occurring and what we can do to prevent it. We shouldn’t be having anxious kids and it’s hard for us to all be functional adults in society if we’re all dealing with the results of anxiety.

How long does it usually take for them to start seeing results?

When dealing with pain, if acupuncture is used correctly, a person can see a reduction in pain, of 50 to 80 percent, within a matter of seconds.

The way I apply acupuncture and how I work with my clients is slightly different to usual treatments. I use a lot of distal points that allow the client to move the affected area during the treatment so we can actually see immediately, whether or not the point will work.

When people come in for insomnia or digestive issues it can take between several sessions until they really start noticing a significant difference. Sometimes I can notice a slight difference from that first session, but you usually start to see a pattern change and a significant improvement around the four to six treatment mark.

What are the ethics of your clinic?

We’re a relatively unique clinic here in Australia. We’re a community acupuncture clinic and work in a communal room.

The concept behind this is our main ethical purpose. We are trying to help break down the barriers of the social-economic restriction of health care and to be accessible to people. Many people don’t have health funds and can’t afford complementary medicine; it’s not something that is often readily available to them. So, they are stuck with the allopathic methods, which aren’t always negative, but they might not be working for them.

Our clinic is a communal space where we can see multiple patients at once, this allows us to reduce our rates. We work on a sliding scale, which means we charge between $30 and $50 for a session. The patient chooses what suits them best and their circumstances and they get the same treatment regardless of what they pay. We’ve also been able to expand out, and now have a reflexologist.

To give the option and freedom of choice is really empowering, and it helps our patients feel like they have control over real healthcare.