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25.03.19 Acupressure and Tui Na Massage

“So relaxing and yet energising”. “I have a new body, you’ve ironed all the creases out”. “I feel taller”. “Although the massage is quite gentle I feel it working at a deep level”

These are some of the lovely comments from clients after Acupressure and Tui Na Massage.

Another comment I quite frequently hear from those who have not yet experienced a treatment is “What exactly is it?”

Acupressure massage is a Traditional Chinese Medicine bodywork technique based on the same principles as acupuncture, that is to say regulating the body’s vital energy (Qi, Chi, Ki)  to restore balance and promote self-healing through the use of specific energy points and channels, but by the use of pressure and massage instead of fine needles.

Tui Na, which literally means ‘Push and Grasp’ is a style of acupressure, it is often used to focus on areas of specific concern and is generally considered to be more medical and remedial. Tui Na involves the use of both deep tissue and lighter techniques, it can be used as a therapy in its own right or as part of an holistic acupressure treatment.

Acupressure, like acupuncture has been practiced for over 5000 years and was developed originally by traditional healers who could sense Qi (vital energy flow) in the body, intuitively understanding when it was deficient or not flowing freely and what techniques were required to restore wellbeing. The court physicians of Imperial China also practiced acupressure alongside acupuncture and herbal medicine to maintain the health of the Emperor, royal family and courtiers.

Oils are not used in acupressure, the massage is performed through light clothing. In early times massage oils were not generally available except to the privileged few, and also with climatic conditions often harsh remaining clothed for massage treatment was a practicality. Techniques developed using clothing rather than oils to prevent friction on the skin. In the imperial courts there was the additional matter of formality and etiquette which at times forbade the viewing and touching of the Emperor’s skin, and that of his wives, courtesans and high ranking family members, in any but the most essential of circumstances.

Acupressure massage promotes the release of endorphins which help relieve pain and increase blood flow to the muscles and internal organs (via acupuncture channel connections). It quietens the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and promotes parasympathetic function. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) has nerve fibres which originate in the cranial (top) and sacral (bottom) areas of the spine, including the vagus nerve which plays a major role in regulating the heart rate, keeping the gastrointestinal tract in working order and carrying sensory information between the internal organs and the brain. When the PNS is stimulated our bodies are in a ‘calm and healing mode’ and restorative functions can operate more effectively. Interestingly the spine and meridians (acupuncture channels) running parallel to it are an area where we find major acupuncture points connecting to our internal organs and physiological systems such as digestion and respiration. It is perhaps then unsurprising that many acupressure massage techniques are focused around the neck, back and shoulders as these are not only areas where many of us hold muscle tension but also where deeper internal connections are made. Although of course the precise details of each massage treatment will depend on the individual needs and requirements of the client.

Acupressure can help a wide variety of conditions; relax tight stiff muscles, aid in recovery from sports injuries or RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury, pain felt in muscles, nerves and tendons due to repetitive movement and over use). It is also great for relieving stress and resolving

tension on both physical and emotional levels. It encourages the release of lactic acid that builds up when we suffer from fatigue and trauma. It promotes good circulation and a healthy immune system, and can improve sleep quality, mental clarity and general wellbeing. It is also just a lovely way to enjoy a little relaxation and ‘me time’ which we all need in our busy lives.

19.02.19  WOOD THE ELEMENT OF SPRING

Are you feeling stressed, tense, suddenly angry for no obvious reason or reacting disproportionately to minor annoyances? Are you suffering from headaches or migraines especially around the temples and eyes? Do you suffer with tight muscles and tendons? Your wood element could be out of balance!

The five elements (Wu Xing) are a fundamental part of traditional Acupuncture and Chinese medicine. They are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each represents a dynamic principle of movement in nature and within us. They are all interrelated but also each have distinct attributes.

Wood is the element associated with Spring and growth. The concept of wood includes not just trees but all plants – flowers, grasses, foods crops, even algae and mosses. At the time five element theory was developing China was an agricultural society and physicians would have been well aware of the growth cycle in nature and how similar energies manifested in their patients.

Wood energy is yang in nature and its directions are upward and outward, it is associated with the power of birth – think of seedlings pushing upwards from underground or an acorn beginning its cycle of growth by which it will eventually (with the right growing conditions, and maybe a little luck) develop into a mighty Oak. People with strong wood element in their constitutional make up are often very creative and innovative, giving birth to many new projects and ideas.

But the dynamic movement of Wood can cause problems, when it moves too forcefully sending our energy rushing upwards it can manifest physically as migraines and headaches or emotionally with outbursts of anger.

Of course anger although generally considered to be a ‘negative’ emotion is not always bad.

‘Anger’ in this context covers a range of emotions including indignation, frustration and rage, and as with all emotions it can be either positive and appropriate or negative and inappropriate depending on the context and the manner in which it is expressed. It certainly can be painful both for the individual expressing it and those on the receiving end. However, it is also at times essential for change and growth of both individuals and societies. It is all a matter of balance.

In the structure of our bodies Wood is said to ‘manifest’ in the ligaments and tendons, think of the explosive power of an athlete, this is pure Yang Wood energy in action, when it is balanced and healthy our ligaments and tendons will be both flexible and strong. If it is out of balance they can become either excessively rigid or weak.

Wood element is also associated with the eyes and vision. Eye problems can be due to a weakness or imbalance in our Wood element. Imbalances can also manifest in mental and psychological vision, an inability to ‘see’ situations clearly and to ‘look’ and plan ahead. At the other extreme those with a strong Wood element can be clear sighted to the point of being visionary, although sometimes this can sometimes be confined to a specific area of life at the expense of ‘seeing the bigger picture’.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Acupressure and Tui Na Massage work to restore the balance of the elements within us keeping our vital energy (Qi) strong and flowing smoothly. Restoring and maintaining the equilibrium of our minds, bodies and emotions.

Other correspondences for the element of wood include the direction East – the rising sun and yang energies of light and warmth ascending after the relatively cool dark yin of night, and the climate of wind which is also yang in nature, fast moving, changeable, rising and circulating.

The colour of wood is green. Imbalances in a person’s wood element can often be seen as a subtle blue-green or yellow-green tint to the complexion, especially around the eyes or mouth.

17.01.19 Acupuncture For Fibro Myalgia

Imagine experiencing extreme tiredness, all your muscles aching and you are feeling pain so intensely that even a minor injury such as stubbing a toe can be agonising  for hours or even days. You have difficulty sleeping and are may be experiencing headaches and bloating. You rest but the fatigue and pain persist. If you do manage to get some sleep you wake up feeling stiff, aching and groggy. You cannot concentrate, your brain is lost in a fog. Sounds like maybe a bad case of Flu? But there are no acute Flu like symptoms and symptoms you do have won’t go away. This is how it feels to have fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS).

FMS is hard to diagnose and many sufferers struggle to get conventional medical professionals to take their symptoms seriously and may even be told dismissively that it is ‘all in their mind’.

Typically first onset of FMS occurs around 30-50 years of age and the condition is more common in women than men. There is no specific cure and living with FMS means being aware of triggers such stress, other illnesses and weather changes which may cause a flare up, and making lifestyle adjustments; eating well, exercising sensibly when able to do so and making time for sufficient rest and relaxation.

When conventional medicine does take FMS seriously, it can only offer treatment for symptom control such as pain relief, and as the pain is severe medication strong enough to control it will often also zonk sufferers out, making other symptoms such as fatigue and ‘brain fog’ worse. Antidepressant medication is also frequently offered and while it is true that anxiety and depression do often co-exist with FMS, it is debatable if they are actually part of the condition or rather the result of living with chronic debilitating pain.

Acupuncture is helpful in managing FMS. Acupuncture is well known to be effective in reducing chronic pain, it is also helpful in the management of other FMS symptoms. In a Mayo Clinic study researchers concluded ‘that acupuncture symptoms of fibromyalgia, and that symptomatic improvement was not restricted to pain relief and was most significant for fatigue and anxiety’ [Martin DP et al. Improvement in fibromyalgia symptoms with acupuncture: Results of a randomized control trial. Mayo Clinic Proceedings]

Case Study Ben (not his real name) was a successful business man, who ran his own small chain of retail outlets. He was single but in a long term committed relationship. He worked very hard and travelled abroad frequently. He was a keen runner and kept himself physically fit, until out of the blue in his early forties he began to experience unexplained muscle pain and extreme fatigue. Medical tests were inconclusive and Ben was advised to rest and cut down his workload but this did little to help him. He was eventually diagnosed with FMS and prescribed strong pain medication but while this did reduce his pain it also left him feeling, in his own words ‘like a zombie’. He stopped taking the medication and the pain returned. He couldn’t run anymore and on his worst days could barely walk. Pain was keeping him awake at night and he was constantly tired. He first attended for acupuncture at the suggestion of a family member who had found it very helpful for chronic back pain. He was not honestly hopeful it would help him but felt desperate enough to try almost anything. After his first treatment he reported still feeling exhausted but he had been in slightly less pain for a couple of days. After his second session he said he felt more positive and was sleeping slightly better. By now he was feeling more hopeful and committed to his acupuncture sessions, he continued to have weekly treatments for a further 8 weeks. Things were not always easy and some weeks he experienced very little improvement and even flare ups in certain symptoms but he kept going and slowly he health began to improve even if it was at times a case of ‘two steps forward and one step back’. After a total of ten weekly treatments he was feeling much better and had even restarted regular gentle running sessions. At this point the frequency of his acupuncture treatment was gradually reduced to fortnightly, three weekly and then monthly sessions. Ben continued to use acupuncture as part of his management of his FMS, attending approximately every 6-8 weeks for what he described as his ‘maintenance sessions’ and he would attend for more frequent treatments if he was concerned about FMS triggers in his life or if he felt his symptoms flaring up.

If you have found this article and case history resonate with pain you or a loved one are experiencing and would like to know more about how acupuncture may be able to help FMS or other chronic pain conditions I will be happy to discuss things with you

02.11.18    Acupuncture for Chronic Pain.

Traditional acupuncturists and their many satisfied clients have known for many years that acupuncture effectively treats chronic pain. Recently after extensive research the National Institute for Health Research (the research arm of the NHS) now agree, stating: ‘We have provided the most robust evidence from high quality trials on acupuncture for chronic pain. Acupuncture is one of the more clinically effective therapies…it is not a placebo… is better than usual care for pain from musculoskeletal conditions, osteoarthritis and chronic headache’.

Pain is a global problem. In recent health surveys almost one in three Americans and one in five Europeans reported suffering from long term (chronic) moderate to severe pain which effected their health and quality of life. Given that many people in pain are not involved with health studies and quite often feel the best option is just to try and get on with life it is likely that the percentage experiencing less than optimum wellbeing due to pain actually much higher. The most common causes of chronic pain are; back pain, neck pain, severe headaches and migraines.

Chronic pain occurs for a number of reasons and is not completely understood. Acute pain which happens at the time of an injury warns us we have been hurt, it is our body’s way of telling us to rest and protect the injured area and once the injury has healed the pain stops. Chronic pain continues, muscle and body memory are unable to forget the trauma. Sometimes nerve signals may become damaged or confused and so continue to send pain signals to the brain.

Chronic pain effects quality of life on many levels. Two thirds of people with chronic pain also report suffering with chronic sleep problems, lack of restorative sleep makes pain worse and a negative cycle of pain and insomnia builds up.

How can chronic pain be treated? Drugs are frequently the first line of treatment, but these are rarely the answer. ‘Across the Counter’ pain medications such as Ibuprofen and paracetamol are not intended for long term use. They are not a cure, at best they temporarily dull moderate pain and are ineffective in more severe conditions. Stronger Opioid based prescription medication is often hardly more effective. Opioids can be very effective short term for severe acute pain they are a less appropriate option for chronic pain. Recent US studies found only 23% of patients found opioids effective for chronic pain, and that many taking these medications were actually in more pain after 12 months compared to others not taking opioid pain relief. There are also significant risks of addiction and depression associated with long term use.

So what other options are there? Acupuncture is widely known and used world wide in effective treatment of pain. Traditionally acupuncture has been used to treat pain for over a thousand years. Recently Western medicine has become interested in this use of acupuncture and a number of large scale research trials and in depth investigations have been undertaken. In a very large recent US study over 450,000 patients were treated for head ache, low back pain and/or osteoarthritis, 76% experienced a clinically significant reduction in pain. Here in the UK the National Institute of Health Research (the research arm of the NHS) recently concluded, after reviewing or 140 trials that ‘We have provided the most robust evidence from high quality trails on acupuncture for chronic pain. Acupuncture is one of the more clinically effective therapies…it is not a placebo… is better than usual care for pain from musculoskeletal conditions, osteoarthritis and chronic headache’.

Acupuncture stimulates the body’s natural healing responses to restore health and balance. There is still much to learn about how and why it is so effective in treating pain. It has been shown that acupuncture point stimulation effects neural pathways and calms pain centres in the brain. It also stimulates the body to release and regulate natural biochemicals involved in pain reduction including ATP, GABA, adenosine and substance P.

Acupuncture has a long track record of successful use and offers a safe and effective alternative option for the treatment of chronic pain.

REFERENCES

Evidence Based Acupuncture www.evidencedbasedacupuncture.org.

The British Acupuncture Council www.acupuncture.org.uk

NIHR www.discover.dc.nihr.ac.uk

National Center for Health Statistics (2006) Health, United States, 2006 [Online] Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus06.pdf [Accessed 12 Sept 2017].

Breivik H, Collett B, Ventafridda V, Cohen R, Gallacher D. Survey of chronic pain in Europe: prevalence, impact on daily life, and treatment. Eur J Pain. 2006;13:287–333. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpain.2005.06.009.

The CHP Group (2014) The Cost of Chronic Pain:How Complementary and Alternative Medicine Can Provide Relief. [Online] Available from: https://www.chpgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/CHP-WP_CAM-Chronic-Pain_Sls_12.12.2014.pdf [Accessed 12 Sept 2017].

Krebs EE. Effectiveness of opioid therapy vs. non-opioid medication therapy for chronic back & osteoarthritis pain over 12 months. Inannual meeting, Society for General Internal Medicine, Washington DC 2017.

Zhao, Z.-Q. (2008). Neural mechanism underlying acupuncture analgesia. Progress in Neurobiology, 85(4), 355–375. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2008.05.004