Posts filed under ‘Acupuncture’

Acupuncture and Migraines

  By Sam May, BSc, LicAc, MBAcC

One of the more commonly known uses of acupuncture is the treatment of headaches, and in particular migraines. Migraines tend to relate to the temple region and the sides of the head, and often involve the eyes, either in the form of distorted vision or pain behind the eyes. The headache usually has an intense quality, sometimes described as ‘throbbing’ or ‘thumping’, and can often last for several days.

In Chinese Medicine, headaches such as these are most commonly associated with  an underlying energetic pattern known as ‘Liver Yang Rising’, resulting from some form of ‘Yin’ deficiency. Yin is grounding, cooling energy, and can easily become depleted in a person who is overdoing it in some way, perhaps working long hours or not getting enough sleep for example. Yin and Yang are opposites and balance each other, but when one becomes relatively weaker than the other then this balance is lost. In the case of Yin deficiency, the Yang energy is not sufficiently grounded and so rises upwards. If the Liver is involved energetically in some way, this rising Yang affects the associated energy channels – in particular the Gall Bladder channel which travels up the back of the neck and over the ears to the temples, eyes and forehead. The Liver is also understood to ‘open into the eyes’ in Chinese Medicine, such that Liver patterns often involve eye symptoms. With this relative excess of Yang energy rising up to the head, a migraine (or a bad headache) develops, usually following the line of the Gall Bladder channel in some way.

The treatment principles in this case are to subdue the Liver Yang energy, pulling this downwards, and also to nourish Yin energy, in order to ground the Yang. Commonly used acupuncture points for these purposes are located on the feet and lower legs, as well as on the temples and the back of the neck. Depending on how chronic the problem is, results can generally be seen quite readily from treating this pattern, in some cases even after just one treatment. Patients may also find that they feel less irritable as well.

Sam May combines both Five Element and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) styles of acupuncture, and practices at Evolve. In addition to practising acupuncture, Sam also teaches meditation for health and wellbeing, and works as a health consultant for complementary and alternative medicine. For more information please visit: 


February 27, 2012 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

Recent Insights into the Science Behind Acupuncture

By James McVeigh, clinic assistant

The Ancient Chinese discipline of acupuncture has an array of potential health benefits, which throughout its long history have been explained as a result of the regulation of qi flow. Needle insertion at acupoints corrects imbalances in this flow, often providing pain relief and a decrease in stress levels.

Although little regarding qi has been discovered by researchers, recent work has revealed some of the biological processes that result from usage of the technique.

A recent American study published in Experimental Biology and Medicine showed that acupuncture reduces the blood levels of the protein neuropeptide Y (NPY) in rats. It may sound strange to test the therapy using rat subjects, but they have proven to be useful indicators in other stress experiments. As well as having a similar biological response to humans, their stress levels can be easily manipulated using low temperatures. Stress is still not fully understood, but the same protein, NPY, is released by both humans and rats when stressed.

During stress, blood flow is constricted to the heart, lungs and brain as a response to danger and the body preparing to either fight or run. However, this response to danger occurs all too often in the fast-paced, modern world of work that our bodies were never designed for. Too much of this blood flow constriction causes cardiac disease and elevated blood pressure. Acupuncture could therefore be an invaluable tool against not only these health problems but also the negative mental effects of stress.

Interestingly, a second experiment carried out by the researchers four days after the original treatment showed that the NPY levels remained low despite the rats being exposed to continuous stress since the acupuncture. What this means is that as well as acupuncture treating stress it can also be used as protection against it.

“It has long been thought that acupuncture can reduce stress, but this is the first study to show molecular proof of this benefit,” says the study’s lead author, Ladan Eshkevari, Ph.D. The researchers are now testing for acupuncture’s effects on other stress symptoms, and so far the results are looking promising.

February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

Treating the Spirit with Acupuncture

by Sam May

Most people who I talk to about acupuncture have a somewhat limited idea of what it can do for them. I often see patients coming in with some form of back pain or tension in the neck and shoulders, thinking that this is all that acupuncture might be able to help them with. In most cases there are underlying patterns that need to be addressed as well, manifesting in other areas of their physical health and wellbeing, such as their digestion, menstruation, and sleep for example.

However more often than not there is also an emotional component to their complaint, sometimes quite deeply affecting their spirit. The notion that acupuncture can help on this deeper level may not have been considered. And yet in some cases treating with acupuncture on this deeper level alone can resolve their physical symptoms.

There is a line from the Nei Jing, a Chinese medical classic dating back to c. 200BC, which indicates the importance of addressing this deepest level of a person’s wellbeing:

“When one applies medical treatment, one must keep in mind first of all, the patient’s spirit.”

Many of the several hundred acupuncture points on the body have a spiritual function, and this is often expressed in the name given to a particular point. Some obvious examples are ‘Spirit Storehouse’, ‘Spirit Burial Ground’, and ‘Spirit Tower’, ‘Heavenly Window’, and ‘Gate of Hope’. Acupuncture points such as these have been used for thousands of years to treat patients on the deepest level of spirit, and sometimes the practitioner might only use one of these points in a single treatment, working on the ‘less-is-more’ principle.

Patients being treated at this level may simply report ‘feeling better in themselves’. This commonly includes a lessening of any emotional unrest, such as stress, anxiety or agitation. However it can also bring about an alleviation of physical symptoms, such as digestive or menstrual problems, muscular tension, headaches, and other aches and pains.

Sam practices a combination of Five Element and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) styles of acupuncture, and works from The Natural Health Clinic in Bristol. For more information please visit:

April 9, 2011 at 9:47 am

Case Study: Acupuncture for Chronic Lower Back Pain

by Dr. Zak Han, MB (1985), MATCM (UK)

zakWe were actually amazed when we typed “causes of lower back pain” into the Google search box. Over 3,770,000 search results exist! By just glancing at the articles that pop up on the first page yields an enormous amount of facts and figures. But… the treatments aren’t always effective. Acupuncture is without question one of the most powerful pain-altering modalities in the world. Its reputation for pain relief is known and respected internationally. It may be practised successfully with a variety of procedures other than needles, including lasers, electronic and noninvasive stimulation devices for those who are needle-phobic and would not consider acupuncture otherwise.

This case study concerns a 58-year-old female patient who presented in February 2008, with severe pain in her lower back, right buttock, leg, and foot. The patient’s pain began in February 2007, when she slipped while cleaning in her home. Following that, she had many different treatments including physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractics, etc, but nothing worked. She also received hydrocodone bitartrate/acetaminophen, which provided minor relief but caused nausea.

She described the pain as “cramping, burning, radiating, and squeezing”. She said the pain was constant, with an intense ache in her lower back. Pain radiated right across her hip and buttock, down the posteriolateral aspect of her leg to the sole and top of her foot. She was unable to work because of intolerable pain. On physical examination, it was noted that flexion, extension and lateral movements of the spine were all completely normal. However, on palpation of the L4/L5 facet joint there was extreme tenderness, on the right more than the left, and examination also showed a decreased ankle reflex on the right side.

zakdiag1After presentation at my clinic the patient enrolled in ‘zak acupuncture’. After the first treatment, there was little result. She continued with treatment and received deep and intensive acupuncture in the lower back area for approximately 2 months, almost 10 acupuncture sessions in total, in which she had a lot of thick needles put over the tender facet joints, and in some regional acupuncture points. On the eleventh session, it was difficult to elicit the previous area of tenderness and the patient felt that the pain had completely resolved.

Most low back pain is triggered by some combination of overuse, muscle strain, and injury to the muscles, ligaments, and discs that support the spine. Many experts believe that over time muscle strain can lead to an overall imbalance in the spinal structure. This leads to constant tension in the muscles, ligaments, bones, and discs, making the back more prone to injury or reinjury. Acupuncture is the best solution for back pain relief as it is best for decreasing inflammation and built-up circulation to injured tissue.

In contrast to most acupuncturists, I focus first on trying to find an effective option for my patients. Most of the patients I see have a problem that I can solve with a special acupuncture technique. I spend a significant amount of time practising with new and exciting technologies that have made modern acupuncture technique one of the fastest growing and most technologically advanced areas in all of Chinese medicine. Although I am sorry that you have to come see me because of your chronic and difficult back pain, take comfort in the fact that I have so much more to offer you to solve your pain successfully than any other time in history. Please have a look around my website. I hope it helps you learn more about my practice and understand more about your spine.

October 6, 2009 at 9:17 am

Acupuncture and Fertility

by Brendagh O'Sullivan

by Brendagh O'Sullivan

It’s spring again, the sap is rising and nature abounds with new growth and teaming life. It’s truly a wonderful and joyous time of year, unless of course, this is not what is happening for you. I do seem to be treating an ever increasing number of people with fertility issues. Whether we are leaving it later to start a family, too wrapped up in a stressful life, over exposed to xeno oestrogens, more people are arriving at my practise unhappy at the length of time it seems to be taking to conceive.

Becoming pregnant is not always straightforward. It involves a delicate synchronisation of physical, psychological and emotional factors. It is the acupuncturist’s aim to keep you as relaxed, enriched and empowered throughout this potentially stressful journey.

Although it’s mainly women who seek treatment, in many cases their men would benefit from a short course of treatment, too. The quality and vitality of the semen can be improved, even if your sperm count was satisfactory. And just to reassure men, the acupuncture needles are mainly placed into the arms, legs and back. If loose clothing is worn, there’s even no need to get undressed!

I recommend people to try acupuncture before considering assisted conception techniques (IVF, IUI, ICSI etc.)You will be treated according to your unique differential diagnosis and may well conceive whilst on the waiting list to see a consultant. One of my patients describes her experience:

“At the end of 2006 I had a missed-miscarriage and then problems with the resulting evacuation procedure. Finally I was given the all clear and told I would have no trouble conceiving again, but six months later I wasn’t pregnant and felt that I wanted some help other than what was available through my GP. I had heard great things about acupuncture from a friend who also had fertility concerns and so looked for a registered practitioner who specialised in this area. As a result I got in contact with Brendagh and within two months I was pregnant. Not only do I believe that seeing Brendagh helped my body regarding fertility, but being a long-term asthmatic, I have also found acupuncture to be hugely beneficial in this area.”

Mrs P.T., Clevedon

If, however you have already begun an assisted conception cycle, acupuncture can work effectively alongside this to increase your chances of conception. If you have had a number of unsuccessful assisted cycles, the reason why you are not yet pregnant may lie outside the scope of western medicine. Acupuncture, with its oriental perspective, may provide the key to resolving recurrent miscarriage, polycystic ovary syndrome, advancing maternal age, and abdominal congestion (endometriosis, fibroids, tubal obstruction, etc.) Every person’s circumstances are unique. Guidance may be suggested in terms of nutrition, exercise and lifestyle.

I’m still surprised at how many women consider their periods as “normal” despite headaches, sore breasts, abdominal pain, clotting, dribbling or breakthrough bleeding. These are all signs of minor disharmonies that could be holding up your happy event. If you chart your daily temperature, bring this along to your consultation, as it’s a valuable diagnostic tool.

Brendagh O’Sullivan has been practising as an acupuncturist in and around Bristol for 20 years. She has successfully worked with fertility (both male and female), offering IVF support, and regularly treats menopausal and other gynaecological problems.

May 2, 2008 at 11:31 am

The role of Acupuncture in treating sleep disorders

by Brendagh O’Sullivan, LicAc, MBAcC

Usually, patients complain of too little sleep. This may present as:

  • Waking in the night
  • Restless or dream disturbed sleep
  • Difficulty in falling asleep
  • Waking early

Firstly it is important to explore whether the insomnia is due to an imbalance within the constitution or has an external or temporary cause. Being too hot or cold, eating late, drinking excess stimulants (caffeine and alcohol may have different effects according to your constitution) can drastically affect the quality of your sleep.

Sometimes there are other underlying health conditions that lead to sleep difficulties. These include stress, hormonal imbalances, cardiovascular conditions, asthma, digestive disorders, bladder problems, neurological conditions, pain; such as sciatica, frozen shoulder etc. These are also amenable to acupuncture treatment and your sleep will improve as they are resolved.

Sleep comes readily when we have sufficient circulating quantities of endorphins, serotonin and melatonin. Research studies have shown that acupuncture’s efficacy in boosting levels of these brain chemicals, to restore the natural balance of our sleeping/ waking cycle.

Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnoses many cases of insomnia in terms of deficiencies of our Yin and/or Blood, as these govern our state of rest and quality of sleep.

Yin, our cooling, restful and restorative function declines with age and is eroded by stress. This is why our sleep is disturbed when we have a fever, approach the menopause, and work (or play) too hard. Typically, a bout of insomnia may follow a minor cold, flu or similar infection where we failed to take sufficient rest and recovery time before returning to work. This is exacerbated if, in our keenness to return, we have taken over-the-counter cold remedies or antibiotics as they generally fail to clear dead pathogens from our system, resulting in stagnation or agitation of vital Qi.

In this case we have not allowed our stores of Yin to adequately recover. Restless sleep or nocturnal waking are the body’s way of drawing this to our attention. Acupuncture is an effective way to re-harmonise our natural Yin/Yang balance to restore our healthy sleep pattern.

In TCM, Blood is rather exotically described as the ‘residence of the spirit’ and anchors our mind, consciousness and emotional well being.

This is a ‘chicken and egg’ relationship. If the mind is happy and peaceful, the blood will be strong and vice versa. Therefore emotional problems can affect the quality of the blood.

Blood deficiency insomnia, usually manifests as a difficulty in falling asleep, can be due to anaemia or sudden heavy blood loss (perhaps following an accident, childbirth, miscarriage or menstrual bleeding which is too heavy or frequent). Again, it is important to find and treat the underlying cause.

Some psychiatric disorders, including certain types of dementia and psychological conditions including depression and anxiety can result in night -time agitation. These may need a longer course of treatment according to the severity of the symptoms.

Dreams are a normal component of sleeping, yet we may or may not remember them. Only when we wake with vivid dreams or nightmares that rob us of vitality are they deemed a problem. Telling your acupuncturist the content of any significant or recurring dreams can help with your diagnosis.

Some patients complain of too much sleep or feeling constantly dopey and lethargic. They may also experience dizziness and disorientation, as if the head is filled with cotton wool. This condition of somnolence occurs when there is excess damp or phlegm, (usually from Kidney Yang or Spleen deficiency) and responds well to acupuncture treatment, restoring clarity and vitality to the mind and body. We may also look to see if some changes in diet or lifestyle will help.

Allopathic remedies for sleep disorders are aimed at symptomatic treatment. Regrettably their long term effects often injure our ability to fall asleep naturally or deeply. Acupuncture provides a safe alternative for those hesitant to take to medication, as it re harmonises a disturbed sleep/ waking cycle through its calming and regulating effects on the nervous system.

A word on snoring:-

A patient once claimed ‘my husband didn’t snore after his last acupuncture treatment, I wish he’d come more often!’ Since this was the first I’d heard of this issue, I could go back to his notes and refine his diagnosis. Snoring is usually a phlegm problem; changes to diet or lifestyle can help, but some patients find it constitutionally more difficult to process phlegm and dampness within the body. Acupuncture can assist this transformation.

February 8, 2008 at 11:10 am

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