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?


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.


Anxiety & depression

Fatigue and weakness

Weight gain, particularly around the waist


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.


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


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:


Meet Angie Savva – an award-winning Chinese Medicine practitioner

Natural Medicine Week Collage

Angie Savva, Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practitioner was recently awarded the accolade of Practitioner of the Year, in the highly sought after ATMS Natural Medicine Awards.

We had the privilege of chatting to Angie to learn about her journey and passion for natural therapies.

Tell us a little about you and your background.

I am an integrative Acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practitioner passionate about working with women and children, and committed to ensuring the best health outcomes, both for my clients, and for future generations.

My practice is a beautiful, eco-friendly, multi-disciplinary natural health clinic, the Quan Yin Healing Centre, which is becoming a well-known oasis of healing and peace in the Blue Mountains, NSW.

Over the past fifteen years, I have enjoyed studying and practicing natural health, and have extended my skills with many additional qualifications including health coaching, aromatherapy, nutrition, massage, and infant massage instruction.

What originally led you to this type of natural medicine?

At a young age, I saw first-hand how Chinese Medicine could have a positive impact on people’s health. The older I got, the more I learned about it and I felt like it sang to my soul. My Mum also had a background in naturopathy and massage, and her respect and love for natural therapies has been a constant influence in my life.

In the professional world, my first steps into natural medicine came when I was living in London, where I completed a Diploma of Complementary Medicine. This only fuelled my aspiration to learn more, so on returning to Sydney, I completed a Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine at UTS

Why are you passionate about Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine?

I absolutely love Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine – both receiving it and practising it! I love that it is so wide-ranging, holistic, and focused on the whole person – not only the disease or condition. Practising is so rewarding, especially when I see how Chinese Medicine can  provide my clients with such great results, and after 10 years – I am still amazed at the results we can achieve together. To play a small role in changing people’s lives – it is a beautiful feeling.

Tell us about your clinic and how you work with your clients in the Blue Mountains?

I moved from Sydney to the Blue Mountains six years ago, and after years of commuting, I   founded the Quan Yin Healing Centre in Springwood. My dream was to create a truly beautiful multi-disciplinary clinic that would be a joy both to visit and work in, and I’m so happy to have made that a reality. I believe that as natural health practitioners, we are stronger together, and I’m proud to now work with six practitioners in a collaborative and supportive environment.

Environmental sustainability is very important to me, and so the clinic is as eco-friendly as possible. I have always used 100% renewable energy, LED lighting, non-toxic products, and an extensive recycling program. This year I am moving towards making the clinic zero waste and carbon neutral.

Something I’m really proud of is my work with local charities. I offer subsidised treatments for people with cancer and their carers – helping to support them holistically, through an often-difficult journey. I am also a founding partner with a local charity that provides vital support to homeless and underprivileged people in our area.

I work in partnership with my clients in a respectful, affirming and compassionate manner. Everyone’s backgrounds and journeys are so different, and I enjoy working out the best way to help each individual person with their own unique needs – it’s like putting together pieces of a puzzle. I aim to foster empowerment in my clients, and so providing education and encouragement is a big part of what I do.

What types of conditions can Chinese Medicine be used for?

My main focus is women’s health and children’s health. I provide holistic treatments to help optimise fertility naturally, as well as support for people going through IVF during pregnancy and preparation for birth. I also support women who have gynaecological conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis and dysmenorrhea, as well as more general stress, sleep and digestive issues.

I work with many common children’s health concerns and have completed a number of post-graduate qualifications in Chinese Medicine paediatrics. Acupuncture is very quick (and painless) to administer for children under 8 as the needles aren’t retained. I also have a range of non-needle techniques for needle-phobic kids and teach parents simple health promoting techniques that they can use at home.

Chinese Medicine is holistic, so it looks at the whole-person and all aspects of a person’s life, with the goal of bringing everything back into balance. Because of this, it can really be applied to any health condition or complaint as an adjunctive therapy. There are many different branches within Chinese Medicine, and an abundance of research into its application to almost any condition you can think of.

I love seeing my clients faces when they have experienced their treatment – as well as the larger health benefits, they come out feeling incredibly relaxed and rested.

What’s your personal vision and mission for what you do?

To be the best practitioner that I can be, to truly serve people who I work with, and to make a big difference in people’s lives.

I believe if we focus on small steps; helping individual people feel happier and healthier, one-by-one, this can have a ripple effect from local communities, to states and countries – to make the world a better place.

What does the future look like for you – what are your plans?

I recently finished a health coaching certification with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, so I’m looking forward to integrating this with my acupuncture practice and focusing on preventative health care wherever I can. I’m currently working on creating some online courses which is very exciting!

My favourite ancient Chinese Proverb says: “A superior doctor prevents sickness; A mediocre doctor attends to impending sickness; An inferior doctor treats sickness.”

I’ll be aiming high.

What did it mean to you to win Practitioner of the Year?

It was such an incredible honour to be named Practitioner of the Year. I feel so humbled and blessed to be acknowledged in this way and by such a prestigious organisation.

Winning this award has only reinforced my burning desire to be the absolute best practitioner I can be, every single day. There’s so much more to learn and I look forward to the journey.

To find out more about Angie Savva, visit her website: