How does acupuncture work?

Acupuncture works through the pain pathways in the central nervous system (CNS) and the nervous tissue of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) to the brain. At the brain level it carries out sophisticated “housekeeping” activities to restore brain efficiency and control of the rest of the body. In other words, if you are fit and well and need maintenance acupuncture, then the housekeeping is minimal but essential for restoring efficient organ functions. However if you have multiple disorders (heartburn, hypertension, hip pain and you drink alcohol a little too much very regularly, then the acupuncture will have much housekeeping to perform and may take longer to “kick in”.

The repeated sessions (usually between 4 – 10 sessions) makes the brain remember the acupuncture signals better and for a longer period of time. The evidence base indicates the acupuncture effect fades out at the 3 month mark hence it is important to get your maintenance acupuncture well before the 3 month mark after the last session. Many choose the monthly “top ups” as we call these sessions as it empirically reduces the ups and downs of daily life in the big smoke.

 

Is laser acupuncture different from needle acupuncture?

There are several modalities of acupuncture such as needle (NA) or low intensity therapeutic laser (LA), acupressure, moxibustion ( warming herbs over acupuncture points) and cupping. LA has been available for over 25 years but not as well known locally. It is popular in Europe in particular in France, Austria and Germany.

Dr Quah-Smith has been involved in LA research in depression at the University of New South Wales. Although the pathways to the brain may well involve the ANS for laser and the pain pathways for needle acupuncture, the final outcome is still dependent on brain region changes and the top down effects (neurofeedback). The only time when needle acupuncture is necessary is in the management of arthritic pain when the needle location in the sensory cortex (for the specific joint) is required. 

 

Are there any adverse effects from needle or laser acupuncture?

There are very few adverse effects with acupuncture in the hands of a well trained acupuncturist. Correct needle technique and anatomical knowledge are essential. Some individuals may feel fatigued transiently. Very few are strong reactors- meaning they are sensitive to acupuncture and their treatments need to be attenuated to suit. Very occasionally, bruising may occur due to capillary split either on insertion or removal. This usually resolves within days and can be treated with pawpaw ointment or arnica. The use of disposable needles is mandatory and asepsis is all important, in particular in the ear. Studies have shown swabbing the body skin with alcohol makes no difference to the infection risk as long as the skin is a clean field. Laser is advantageous as there is no risk of infection and it is needle free. 

 

What conditions is acupuncture useful for?

Due to its brain effects, the place of acupuncture is broad based. It can be used as an intervention on its own or synergistically with other therapies including herbal or drug therapy, cognitive behavior therapy or other physical therapies.

At RWG focus is on stress management and preventative care. However we also look after many other conditions including rheumatoid or degenerative arthritis, fibromyalgia, mechanical limb and spinal pain, post traumatic injuries and delayed healing in injuries by facilitating tissue rehabilitation.

Non pain conditions include the stress related disorders (see under stress management), womens health issues, perioperative care and peripartum care.

Tell me more about acupuncture and depression.

Dr Quah-Smith has investigated the use of LA in depression and found LA efficacious in the treatment of depression. The results have been replicated in a second study and confirmed by biological evidence using fMRI scans. Interestingly, the results confirmed the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that the Liver Meridian is the primary meridian in mood disorders. Please see our scientific evidence base reference list for more reading.

 

Can I use acupuncture to help my facial wrinkles?

Beauty lies within not without. Any superficial change is unlikely to last if there is stress and worry or frustration and anger within. The emotional self has to be sorted out first, as well as diet, lots of water and exercise to maintain a lovely complexion and reduce the likelihood of worry and frown lines. Laughter lines are acceptable! Acupuncture can help reduce facial lines however this is dependent on one’s attitude to life in general, for the help to be sustainable.

Here at RWG we advise that stress management and maintenance of well being will help the complexion almost equally as local facial work.

 

I am terrified of needles!

Rest easy. Acupuncture needles are round tipped under the electron microscope. Insertion ideally produces a twinge or an achey sensation. Sometimes the needles are superficially applied in Japanese style strategies. In the case of tender trigger points, the insertion may be slightly painful from the muscle tender point reaction.

Many individuals are surprised at how comfortable the whole process is and also how relaxing whilst the needles are in place and working away. Insertion is usually for 20-30 minutes and we aim to keep the whole experience pleasant.

 
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