Head & Neck
Acupuncture for Headaches
A recent review (Nov 2009) of 33 separate medical studies involving nearly 7,000 patients looked at the benefits of acupuncture in the treatment of headaches and migraines.
The researchers found that volunteers who were treated with traditional Chinese acupuncture, had fewer headaches and migraines. They also found that volunteers treated with acupuncture experienced less pain if a headache developed. After eight weeks of treatment, patients who had acupuncture and no painkillers had fewer headaches compared with those who were given only painkillers.
Dr Mike Cummings, medical director of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, has stated, “This review confirms that acupuncture is as good for headaches as the best available conventional treatments, if not better.”
There are many different types of headache in Chinese medicine and they all require different approaches. If you look at the illustration you will see that different areas of the head are labelled with different names. These relate to the different acupuncture channels. For example, migraine type headaches are often one sided, around the temporal region and affect one eye. This area of the head relates to the Liver and Gall Bladder channels and acupuncture is aimed at regulating the energy in these channels and rectifying the imbalance.
Frontal headaches are associated with the Large Intestine and Stomach channels ( ‘Yang Ming’ within the diagram). These headaches can be associated with imbalances in the digestive system.
Articles from the News Section
Acupuncture for Migraines
Migraines are characterised by an intense throbbing pain that affects either or both sides of the head. Frequently it is felt behind the eyes.
There may be nausea or vomiting and even diarrhoea. Sufferers often experience visual disturbances such as flashing lights, auras or blurred vision.
It is not uncommon to see this type of headache at the weekend after working excessively long hours during the week, under pressure.
In Chinese medicine this type of headache is referred to as ‘Liver Yang Rising’. Basically, too much energy rises to the head along the Gall Bladder channels and this causes pain. There is an imbalance in the Yin and Yang energies of the body. Normally Yin energy restrains the Yang (it acts as an anchor), however if it is depleted for whatever reason then ‘Liver Yang Rising’ headaches can happen. This phenomenon of ‘Liver Yang Rising’ can also occur due to prolonged excessive stress. You maybe interested in reading the section on stress (section – The Emotions) to understand more about this.
Acupuncture aims to smooth the course of the energy along the Liver & Gall Bladder channels and balance the Yin and Yang energies. Normally people come once a week for acupuncture, unless the migraines were particularly debilitating, in which case twice weekly may be necessary until the severity and frequency of the migraines decrease.
Articles from the News Section
Acupuncture for Hay fever
Evidence from systematic reviews suggests that acupuncture may be a safe and effective treatment for hay fever with benefits over conventional medicine (Xiao 2009). Randomised controlled trials have found that acupuncture used as an adjunct to routine care for hay fever has clinically relevant and persistent benefits (Brinkhaus 2008) and is cost effective (Witt 2009). Such trials have also found that acupuncture is effective in the symptomatic treatment of perennial rhinitis (Xue 2007) and that active acupuncture is more effective than sham acupuncture (needling non-acupuncture points) in decreasing the symptom scores for persistent hayfever and increasing the symptom-free days.
Acupuncture may help to relieve pain and congestion in people with hay fever by:
• regulating levels of IgE and cytokines, mediators of the allergic reaction to extrinsic allergens (Ng 2004; Rao 2006; Roberts 2008)
• stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues, which leads to release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, and changes the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz, 1987; Han 2004; Zhao 2008; Cheng 2009);
• reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors (Zijlstra 2003; Kavoussi 2007);
• enhancing natural killer cell activities and modulating the number and ratio of immune cell types (Kawakita 2008);
• increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling.
Can I mix western medication with acupuncture treatment?
Western drugs and Chinese acupuncture work in very different ways. Chinese acupuncture is aiming to restore the status quo by changing the way the immune system reacts to hay fever allergens (i.e. pollen). Western drugs are mainly concerned with drying up secretions (i.e. just treating the symptoms), and this does have its inherent problems. At the beginning it may be necessary to continue with western drugs until the acupuncture has its desired effect. In this case it is a primary goal of acupuncture to help reduce reliance on pharmaceutical drugs and hopefully arrive at a point when the symptoms are managed with acupuncture only.
Dr. Steven Gascoigne has an interesting perspective on the holistic management of hay fever and the problems with pharmaceutical drugs. Dr. Gascoigne is a general practitioner of western medicine and also a practitioner of Chinese medicine, so he sits on both sides of the fence! He is particularly interested in the energetic effect of pharmaceutical drugs in terms of Chinese medicine. He made the following comments taken from his book; ‘The Prescribed Drug Guide…. A holistic Perspective’.
This is what he wrote about the holistic management of hay fever :-
“The effect of antihistamines and decongestants is to dry secretions. They have a stronger systemic effect when taken orally. The suppression of a discharge by any method can be a powerful cause of ill health. Any drug used to suppress discharge may, on its reduction, result in the reappearance of the discharge, often to a worse degree than originally. In addition, such suppression may well lead to the development of more severe disease. In this case, the common result is the occurrence of respiratory disease such as asthma or bronchitis. Withdrawal should be slow and any symptoms that reappear should be treated with holistic medicine.”
Hay fever occurs at a particular time of the year and is triggered by specific allergens (grass pollen, tree pollen). The rest of the year the sufferer is usually completely symptom-free. Other people have allergies all year round and there is a wider range of allergens (dust mites, cats, fungi, etc.) that may include pollens. For this latter group it is fair to say that their allergic response (or internal imbalance) is more deeply entrenched and will require a longer course of acupuncture.
Articles about Hay fever from the News section
Study examines efficacy of acupuncture for hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
Acupuncture for Sinusitis
The sinuses that are most prone to infection and inflammation are located between the eyes and either side of the nose.
The condition of sinusitis broadly corresponds to an old Chinese medical category called ‘Bi Yuan’ which literally means ‘nose pool’.
The main symptoms of sinusitis are a purulent, yellow nasal discharge from the front and back of the nose (into the throat), a stuffy nose, pain on the forehead, facial pain and a feeling of muzziness & heaviness of the head. The sinuses may be tender to touch.
Long-term sinusitis is often caused by repeated infections of the common cold or influenza viruses. Part of the problem with this condition is anatomical. The openings into the nasal cavity are narrow and so if there is already inflammation, then further infection & inflammation make the cavities prone to blockage. This results in stagnation of fluids in the nose and sinuses.
Within Chinese medicine, repeated invasions of common cold & influenza viruses occur because the Lung energy is weakened. In addition, these infections interfere with the movement of Lung energy, which in turn causes the fluids in the nose and sinuses to collect.
Diet can also play an important factor in the development of chronic sinusitis. Food items that are difficult to digest and are consumed on a regular basis will lead to the development and retention of phlegm, which will predispose one to sinusitis.
Acupuncture treatment for sinusitis is based on the presenting symptoms. When the symptoms are acute then treatment is aimed at clearing the phlegm from the nasal cavities and regulating the flow of Lung energy. If the phlegm is Yellow in colour then this indicates heat and points are selected to help the body clear this heat.
During symptom-free periods, or when the symptoms are mild, acupuncture treatment is aimed at strengthening the Lung energy to prevent invasion of pathogens (viruses). Other points will also be selected according to prevailing imbalances. It is also important to strengthen the digestive system and avoid food that is difficult to digest. This is because there is a very important saying in Chinese medicine; ‘phlegm is produced by the Spleen and stored in the Lungs’. The Spleen refers to the digestive system.
Chronic sinusitis can be difficult to treat and require a lot of treatment. Sometimes it does respond quickly as well. Chronic sinusitis is difficult to treat because phlegm is a thick, sticky substance that is hard to clear. There is also an underlying weakness in the body’s energy that results in repeated invasions of viruses. To treat this condition it is important to help the body eliminate the pathogen (Phlegm), and to strengthen the body’s Lung energy (and Spleen) to prevent future infections.
Acupuncture for Eye Problems-Introduction
Eye problems can respond well with acupuncture although it is always advisable to see your GP beforehand, in case it is something that requires urgent medical attention.
Many eye symptoms have no useful label or clear pathology in Western medicine, and may not respond to conventional treatment. They are not severe or progressive, but they may be extremely irritating (ref. Journal of Chinese Medicine, No. 39 May 1992 ‘Bright Eyes’). These are the chronic eye problems that generally involve some combination of redness, itchiness, dryness, ‘grittiness’, watering, blurred vision and discomfort. They do not involve any permanent loss or deterioration of visual clarity.
After ruling out any serious eye problems, you may consider acupuncture treatment for eye problems. Treatment is based on a differentiation of ‘patterns of disharmony’ according to the theory of Traditional Chinese medicine. This will involve asking detailed questions about the eye problem and collecting more information about your general health to build up a bigger picture. I will also look at your tongue and feel your pulse.
To give an example, red painful eyes that feel hot would indicate Heat. This Heat will often manifest in different ways, not just affecting the eyes. The tongue may be particularly red or the complexion may be red, or perhaps there will be a general feeling of heat in the body. If the urine was consistently dark yellow then this can also indicate heat. There are many possible symptoms of heat, too many to list here.
Please phone me directly if you are wonering if acupuncture could help you.
Acupuncture for Glaucoma
A study done published in June 2012 showed that acupuncture can help with glaucoma. This research showed that acupuncture increases the blood flow to the retrobulbar arteries which supply blood to the eyes. It is known that blood flow in these arteries is linked to glaucoma.
For the full details of this study, please follow this link.
Acupuncture for Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash is caused by an impact to the head, which the person then tries to stop. It is not only car accidents that involvement whiplash injuries, although this does account for a lot of whiplash accidents. The impact can be at the side, front, or the back. The injury will be on the opposite side to the impact.
If the whiplash is left untreated then our bodies frequently adjust so that we are pain-free. There will be an adjustment in the spine to accommodate for this, provided that the spine can accommodate this adjustment. It is true to say that the musculo-skeletal system is holding the trauma of the accident. This can become problematic later on in life and may manifest in headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, or if the whole spine becomes affected then even the lower back can become involved.
Footballers can also suffer whiplash type injuries from heading the football on their forehead. This can cause damage in the upper cervical joints and muscles.
If you are considering acupuncture for a whiplash injury, then I would highly recommend seeking treatment earlier rather than later. Simply put… you will need less treatment. Also have a read of the following section on ‘Neck Pain’.
Other relevant articles from the NEWS section :
Acupuncture for Neck Pain
There are many causes of neck pain. Many muscles attach in this area and problems can also occur with the vertebrae in the neck, such as cervical arthritis.
Here I will illustrate a problem that can occur with acute (sudden) neck pain, or what is otherwise know as ‘torticollis’, or ‘stiff neck’. Acupuncture can give quite remarkable results. Long-standing neck problems are often a lot more complicated as a lot of the musculature in the neck has adapted and created a ‘holding pattern’ that can create persistent pain.
In this diagram you will see a muscle that starts on the inside border of the shoulder blade and attaches to the sides of the upper vertebrae in the neck. This muscle is called the levator scapulae. If this muscle tightens up unexpectedly it is easy to see how the neck can be pulled to one side and create pain. The person’s neck will be visibly tilted to one side.
If the levator scapulae muscle is involved with long-standing neck problems, then the shoulder is elevated on the affected side, but the head is unlikely to be tilted.
The treatment of this muscle with acupuncture involves accurate and skilful palpation of the taut muscle bands, and good needling technique. It is not a matter of just sticking a pin in. I think of an acupuncture needle as being an extension of my fingers. It is important to feel what is happening in the muscle fibres, and sometimes a ‘twitch response’ can be elicited which usually gives instantaneous relief.
Of course it is important to try and identify the reason why this muscle has tightened up. A common cause is incorrect sleeping posture. Another one is hooking a handbag over the shoulder and keeping the shoulder raised to prevent it slipping off.
Relevant articles from the NEWS section :
Acupuncture for Facial Pain/ Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by intense pain in the face and is considered one of the most painful experiences a human can possibly experience. It is estimated that one in 15,000 people suffer from trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve has three branches which innervate the face, and treatment is based on the underlying energetic imbalance, and the affected local nerve branch. Hence a combination of points are used on the arms, legs, and face.
A recent study (reference below) looked at a particular type of trigeminal neuralgia, characterized by the Chinese medicine imbalance of ‘Liver Yang excess type’.
This study combined local points (face) with distal points (arms & legs), and compared two types of treatment; one involved shallow insertion of the acupuncture needles, the other involving deep insertion. Both groups had electro-acupuncture (similar to a TENS machine).
In the deep needling group, the total effective rate was 93.8 percent. In the shallow needling group, the total effective rate was 87.1 percent.
Ref : Trigeminal neuralgia of hyperactive of liver yang type treated with acupuncture at Xiaguan (ST 7) at different depth: a randomized controlled trial. HE Lan, ZHOU Wan-yu, ZHANG Xiu-mei. Department of Ophthalmology, Xiyuan Hospital, China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.
During an acupuncture consultation it is routine to ask about how the patient sleeps and it never ceases to surprise me how many people do not have peaceful, restful sleep. Perhaps it is a sign of the times and the stressful society that we live in.
Adequate rest is essential for our well being as it allows time for the body to recuperate and revitalise ready for the following day. Not enough sleep can be a cause for future illness. There are many factors that can cause sleeping problems and I will mention the main ones here, hinging around the theory of Chinese Medicine.
There may be an obvious causative factor leading to poor sleep such as drinking too much coffee late at night or too much visual stimulation from video games or the TV. In these cases it is easy to rectify the situation. Muscular pain can also lead to sleeping problems if the pain is worse at night. In other cases the cause is not so obvious and a detailed consultation is needed to produce an accurate diagnosis.
The term ‘insomnia’ covers a number of different problems such as inability to fall asleep easily, waking up during the night, sleeping restlessly, waking up early in the morning and dream-disturbed sleep.
Excessive heat in the body can cause sleeping problems. Heat is said to ‘agitate the spirit – the ‘Shen’’, in Chinese Medicine. We have all experienced this during hot days in summer, perhaps being stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway, or being in a crowded bus. During the night our ‘spirit’ or ‘Shen ‘ resides in the Blood of the Heart. Heat can disturb the ‘spirit’ and lead to insomnia. This heat can come from many sources such as the heat often associated with menopause, or the heat from a viral illness. Identifying the source of heat is the key to treatment.
(b) Deficiency of Heart Blood
This is a Chinese medicine diagnosis and needs a note of explanation. As mentioned above, the spirit is said to reside in the Heart Blood during the night. The Heart Blood acts as an ‘anchor’ for the spirit, to prevent it from wandering around at night. If the ‘anchor’ is not strong enough then the spirit is free to roam and this results in sleeping difficulties. In this case acupuncture aims to strengthen the Heart Blood and give the spirit a stable residence at night. This may sound confusing, but the Chinese have a very different way of looking at the body compared with ourselves in the West. Their knowledge is the accumulation of over 2000 years of observation and clinical application.
(c) Disturbed Shen
In the introduction I mentioned about excessive visual stimulation leading to sleeping problems. If our mind (the Shen – the same word which is used for ‘spirit’) is overactive then sleeping problems can occur. This can happen if our lives are full of mental activities & processes and we find it difficult to switch off at night. Our mind races and sleep does not come easily.
Sleep problems can also develop from shift work. I recently treated a patient who had difficulty sleeping after changing his job. He used to do shift work and then changed to a regular day job and that was when his sleeping difficulties started. After five acupuncture treatments he was back to a normal sleep pattern.