The best time for Acupuncture

The best time for Acupuncture

One of the questions which arises frequently for acupuncture treatment is – I have X condition – when should I come for acupuncture treatment?

1. Theres a famous Chinese saying you may have heard: ‘The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago: the second best time is now’.

Although Chinese medicine is an excellent intervention in emergency situations – performing over morphine for pain relief in a recent study (here), and getting international attention saving this mans life on a flight (here) I strongly recommend you do not come to your Acupuncturist when you are desperate, at breaking point, or the week before surgery hoping we can ‘fix’ an issue you have had for months in two treatments.

This may sound hilarious – its patently absurd, but it actually happens all the time. This leaves Acupuncturists wondering where we gave you the impression we trained at Hogworts: under no circumstances is potion making or wand waving part of our training (although I appreciate Chinese herbs and acupuncture needles may share a passing resemblance on first impression 🙂

Chinese medicine, particularly Acupuncture, can be a highly effective, very rapid treatment which may get results instantaneously or within minutes. We get a lot of attention for this and trust me, every single acupuncturist will have had this experience, where ‘one or two treatments fixed X situation’. Although this is possible with our medicine, its certainly not the most common outcome of a single treatment.

Please don’t think the treatment hasn’t worked if you don’t get this result – the most common, reliable way to benefit is from a series of treatments like every other medicine. You require a series of antibiotics, or several weeks taking a drug daily before you will see anything change at all. We usually start seeing results quicker than this but it does not mean you will get instant benefits, and under no circumstances will your Acupuncturist expect – or promise – these kind of results.

Be realistic, acupuncture is medicine not magic!

2. If you leave it till something is really, really bad, it will be more difficult and will take longer to resolve it. To translate more directly: prevention is better than cure. If you come to us in the initial stages of an illness, it may well be relatively simple and quick – like those stories you hear about. If you come to us for something you have had for decades, please expect a longer treatment time before resolution of your problem. We aren’t trying to make money out of you, we want to see you get better!! Please don’t hamstring that potential before we get started.

Chinese medicine, having been developed strategically and methodically over many hundreds of years, actually has a ‘formula’ for how long a conditions will take to heal: its one month per year you have had the condition. That means if you have had a chronic complaint for 15 years, you can expect more than a year for that issue to be completely resolved, to the point of it being consistent all the time. Most of us see results much quicker than this but strictly speaking, healing – real healing, not a stop gap ‘fix it’ can be slow process and a natural spiral will occur where situations get better and worse periodically based on external elements outside our, and your control. Get made redundant? have a relationship breakup? have a stressful event? yes, your previous issue will come up again – usually, and hopefully briefly. Its part of being human and alive. Sorry (not sorry!).

3. I completely understand: acupuncture is awesome. Its the only medicine I can think of where you can turn up, chill out on the table, and still get benefit. Awesome right?

I do urge urge you not to take this for granted. Although we can, absolutely, get results without your active participation, this will only get you so far. Acupuncturists are trained to provide individualised dietary, exercise and other lifestyle advice for the best healing of our patients, be that for injury maintenance and prevention, PMS, or fertility, immunity, anxiety and mood swings… you name it. Feel free to ask and pick our brains in the treatment time: thats what we’re here for. I promise you we don’t mind!

If all you do is turn up, it will take longer and more treatment for results. This is not rocket science, its just common sense. If you are eating something you are allergic to, your digestion will not improve. (yep, we see this frequently too)

While there is absolutely a place to turn up and zone out in acupuncture treatment ( please do) this is just one benefit we can offer you: we aren’t going to take everything away you love to do or eat, you may just need to make some adjustments to get the results you want and deserve. Engagement in your own health is the best, most reliable, and very rewarding outcome of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: I honestly feel our best offering is the opportunity to understand yourself and your needs (not your superficial wants) more honestly and thus have greater authenticity and integrity. Chinese Medicine offers the potential for personal, deeper change: if you are ready to start, we can meet you there.

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What is dry needling? Isn’t it just acupuncture?

What is dry needling? Isn’t it just acupuncture?

Over the last few years theres been a considerable upsurge in Acupuncture awareness. It seems to be everywhere: Acupuncture for anxiety, acupuncture for insomnia, acupuncture for immunity, acupuncture for fertility! This is fabulous. Its really very exciting that Acupuncture has started to become much more mainstream in consideration for so many aspects of health, because thats really what its all about: better benefit and recovery for every health condition, more accessible for everyone.

However, one rising issue that has also occurred with this awareness and popularity is the unfortunate and confusing – some might say unethical – promotion of Acupuncture as a service by those who aren’t actually trained or registered to provide it. The practice of Acupuncture for any of these conditions above is restricted – according to AHPRA (the Australian Health Professionals Regulation Association) to those who are actually licensed – and Registered – as Acupuncturists.

This, unfortunately, has not stopped any number of practitioners who are not Acupuncturists from doing advertising and attempting to practice it.

Why not, and how, you ask?

Unfortunately, unlike every other registered profession, such as Nursing, Psychology, Physiotherapy, Chiropractic, etc – AHPRA have decided that the title of Acupuncturist is restricted, but not the use of the word Acupuncture. Confusing, yes? (Don’t ask me, I don’t get it either.) This loophole, unfortunately, creates a great deal of confusion, and also places a certain amount of pressure and expectation on the general public to do the research themselves to discover what level of training, and in particular, what is the reasonable expectation, for a practitioner to be registered and/ or practising Acupuncture.

In the current situation, someone not registered as an Acupuncturist can advertise acupuncture – the practice of needles in skin for therapeutic effect – with a weekend course of training – but they cant advertise Chiropractic, or Physiotherapy, or whatever else, because the use of the related word is considered to be ‘holding out’ to be a qualified practitioner in that practice. Which is fair enough.

You have a right to assume that someone using the associated word, be that advertising materials or facebook or whatever, has actual training in that modality.

But its not currently the case with Acupuncture.

And while you can probably easily identify your mechanic advertising Acupuncture as being a little odd, its a little more difficult when someone is actually a health practitioner in another modality, say, for example, physiotherapy. Because you, as a member of the general public, have an absolutely reasonable right to assume that the person putting needles in you has full training in that practice. Acupuncturists have to go to university for 4-5 years at Undergraduate level and often do additional post graduate qualifications, as well as our required professional development – in Acupuncture. We do many hours training every year to keep our skill base up to date. We are specialists in Acupuncture and needling, whatever form it may take. Ive explained it here previously.

While its a great thing that so many other practitioners are interested and learning the potential benefits of Acupuncture, its very concerning to Acupuncturists (those trained, registered professionals in needling) that there appears to be so little concern regarding what may or may not be appropriate for treatment by them, as practitioners in another field, without this specialised training. Would you consider surgical procedures from someone with ‘an interest’ who then did a short course in it? I hope not.

Passionate and interested in something? Great. Show the world how passionate you are – get qualified.

And although it would be wonderful for many more people to know, for example, that Colon/ Large Intestine 4 (that point everyone knows between your thumb and forefinger) is great for colds and flu, headaches and pain, or that Pericardium 6 suppresses the Vagus nerve and does wonders for nausea, there is also the issue that Spleen 6 – low down on your calf muscle – dilates the cervix and is contraindicated for pregnancy, or that Gall bladder 21 (that big painful one up in your shoulders) stimulates oxytocin and stimulates birth. Other points are contraindicated in high blood pressure and should be avoided. (The list goes on.) I really don’t know if I should have to suggest that if a practitioner doesn’t know which points do what, where and when they are inappropriate – then perhaps they shouldn’t be needling, or perhaps they need to consider referring on to a trained specialist, as they would for other conditions. In this situation, that means an Acupuncturist.

Acupuncture points affect more than just the muscle being activated – they stimulate hormones, modulate brain activity, and regulate circadian rhythm, among other things. Acupuncture has been listed as the most holistic and comprehensive modality, recommended by the World Health Organisation for treatment of everything from musculoskeletal and neurological disorders to mental health conditions (see here for a complete listing) and it has that effectiveness through a broad and complex range of physiological and biochemical interactions, and a body of knowledge with is both broad and deep.

One of the many reasons Acupuncture is such a long and challenging degree is because, like all medical techniques, there is a time and place when anything may be fantastic and do wonders – and a time and place for other, equally wonderful techniques and tools. Different techniques are appropriate at different times for different people, with different conditions and requirements for care. Your doctor won’t randomly prescribe warfarin for a person with a bleeding disorder. We as Acupuncturists don’t just randomly put pins in you either. The reason we ask all those questions about health and sleep and energy (and on and on) aren’t just for fun. They’re for accurate diagnosis to get the best and most accurate treatment for you. We select them based on constitution, condition, and however other many mitigating factors there may be. Acupuncture is a complex, holistic and precise medicine with a systematic approach to health and healing, based on specific diagnosis and clinical expertise.

Like every other Acupuncturist, I’m deeply disturbed by stories of people needled through their jeans weekly for six months without results, or the stories I have heard of ‘anxiety/ fertility/ facial and cosmetic dry needling’. Because those practices, the skills and the evidence, don’t exist outside of Acupuncture, and are highly unlikely to get positive results. Claims for dry needling are restricted to musculoskeletal conditions only – although you are still better off seeing an Acupuncturist for anything involving needles, for obvious reasons. Its also considered fraud by health fund providers, as well as practising outside of Scope of Practice as defined by governing association bodies, for those who are not registered as Acupuncturists.

I’m concerned because these practices are profoundly damaging to Acupuncture, as a practice and profession, but also for another reason: I personally consider this to be past simply the legal aspects of fraud or scope of practice – which are troubling enough – its actually an issue with that other term we all get hammered with in training, which is Duty of Care.

As a Health Professional, I have Duty of Care – legally and ethically – to refer on for something not in my scope of practice or best capacity to treat. Whether that be directing someone back to their GP, to another therapist for something more specific, or to a specialist for clarification on an issue, I am responsible for doing the best I possibly can to ensure my clients recovery and best health. All health professionals are held to this standard.

I’m a long way from being convinced that someone who has completed a weekend course and then read a few acupuncture books or watched youtube videos* is the best practitioner available to do ‘acupuncture’ on a patient. Period. And even further from treating fertility, anxiety, immunity, or insomnia, because these are issues which are complex, comprehensive, and unique to Chinese medical diagnoses and require a specific understanding and training to be effective. This has actually been shown to be the case with musculoskeletal conditions as well.

And in case you were wondering, is this training available for other practitioners to upskill and learn Acupuncture properly? Yes, it is. RMIT University have a Masters in Acupuncture available exclusively for health practitioners: its full of GP’s, Osteopaths, Chiropractors, Nurses, Physiotherapists and Paramedics who have made the considerable investment of time and money to learn Acupuncture comprehensively and well. Its been going since the early nineties – so no excuses. (Congratulations and shout out to my fellow post grads at RMIT! 🙂 )

Here in Australia you are actually very fortunate as its easy to be sure the person sticking needles into you has more than a short course of ‘training’: you can simply go on the AHPRA site here and check, or look for the title of Acupuncturist – before you let someone put needles in you. Had a bad experience or misled witht his issues? Get in touch with AHPRA here – its what theyre here for, to protect you!

*This is if you’re a very lucky patient – this is the most training they can do. As non-Acupuncturist’s they cant go to Acupuncture seminars, which are restricted to registered Acupuncturists.

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Its Spring!

Its Spring!


In Chinese Medicine, Spring is the time for renewal and regeneration. Its a time of new life, beginnings, and activity. Its time of yang, action and movement – time to get up and go, to do things and to clear out the old and redundant in your life, be that physical or emotional, energetic or literal.

Just as you see seeds budding and new shoots forming, so spring has an affinity for wood, new growth and transitions in the human body also. Rapid growth, sudden expansion, and dramatic shifts can occur, due to the residual building energy and momentum of a coming metamorphosis: spring is the surge of vital newness after the quiet solitude of winter.

The five elements in Chinese Medicine are regarded as the universal principles of change, and have distinct phases related to the environment within and without, in the body and in our surroundings. Humans are a part of this natural cycle and the universal laws subject to it.

Each of these is related to a specific time of year, organ partnerships (these are a pair of both yin and yang aspects), activities, flavours, and aspects. Being in rhythm with what is most appropriate during a particular season is the best way of being sure to preserve your health rather than expand it. Living against the order of the seasons is one of causes of dis-ease and ill health.

Spring has an affinity with the Liver and Gall Bladder, which in Chinese Medicine is related to free and easy transitions and movement. As wood elements, they have a relationship with growth and activity so one of the best ways to shake off the stagnation of winter is to get moving! Getting outside in nature,walking, stretching and releasing tendons and sinews is especially important now. If you’ve been meaning to start a yoga or tai chi practice this is the time for it. The energy of spring may also assist those who are attempting to shift some extra weight: metabolic and energetic shifts are occurring in Spring to make this an easier time for it.

The energy building in springtime has an unpredictable nature, where wind and cold appear rapidly and the season may appear to shift from one moment to the next. Keeping warm and protecting yourself against these rapid changes, by keeping a shawl and/ or jacket close, is best to avoid susceptibility to illness – cold and flu season isn’t done yet! In the same way new shoots need the protection of a greenhouse, the body also needs the protection of warmth, in order to acclimatise and build internal energy to prepare for these changes.
Its a time when old allergies, hay fever, and immunity can resurge again and people with eye problems may find they have more issues around now. The liver and spring have an association with wind which often results in rapid, unpredictable (and sometimes acute) issues with the upper body headaches, tremors, dizziness, pain that moves about, and itching skin conditions.

Emotionally, this also means there is the potential of emotional turmoil and acute and dramatic shifts. Manic depression and feelings of restlessness and nervousness are common in this transient and unpredictable time. For those with an unhealthy Liver energy, this can be an emotional rollercoaster.

Spring offers the opportunity to blossom and bud, to surge our energy towards new projects which we have considered but not yet begun, to initiate action and to direct our willpower as a constructive and positive force. Creativity is at a peak, expansive and volatile – its a great time to get in touch with your youthful, lighter and playful self.

Lifestyle tips:
Clear out old things you are no longer using or hanging onto for no good reason. Do a home ‘detox’.
Start waking a little earlier as the days become longer
Rest, have fun, and keep warm – find balance with rest and engagement in new activities

Foods to nourish your energy and clear stagnation:
Green, fresh and leafy foods, such as kale, spinach, sprouts, and shallots. Sprouting, above ground vegetables. Beans, peas and snow peas.
Ginger, mint, licorice,chamomile, hawthorn berry and honey are great as herbal tea’s
Lighter meats such as seafood, pork and chicken are the preference over red meat, which is hotter and heavier to digest. Horse radish and Pickles
The flavour for spring is sour, or astringing. Lemon juice in warm water in the morning (or apple cider vinegar) , grapefruit and limes
Mildly sweet foods such as oats, millet, brown rice, rye, legumes and tofu build the spleen and digestive energy.

Emotions to be aware of:

Anger, frustration and irritability. Volatile mood shifts and emotional turmoil.
This is also a time for clearing out generally: letting go of old or stagnant emotions.

Emotions, Wholeness, and Chinese Medicine

Emotions, Wholeness, and Chinese Medicine

One of the best things about Chinese Medicine is that it has never viewed the mind and the body as separate entities, to be treated and considered as mechanistic isolated parts. Each of us is a complete and whole person, to be treated and considered as such. What balance and harmony are, for each person, will be different.

In Chinese medicine, emotions can be considered the actual cause of disease and disharmony. This does not mean that sadness or joy or anger are pathogenic states (or that they are ‘bad’) – it means that emotions when suppressed, distorted, or stagnating and forced to remain static (remember the latin root of emotions means ‘to move’) can create physical – somatic – expression in the body. As I explained here , medical practitioners in China mapped this expression thousands of years ago.

There has never been a mind/ body split in Chinese medical practices – no stigma and no ‘its all in your mind’ – simply a matter of fact acknowledgment that what happens anywhere has an impact and will appear ‘somewhere’ else as a matter of course. What goes around, comes around, as they say.

In Chinese medicine, Organs have affinity with emotions both physically and energetically. Here is a very beginning overview of the connections

Liver: anger
Kidneys: fear
Lungs: greif
Spleen: worry
Heart: Joy

These will have various layers depending on the individual involved and their constitution, and experience. For example grief will affect the lungs -weakening them and increasing an individuals immunity and receptivity to colds and flu. They may also wake up around the time of the lungs at 3-5am. But deep grief can also descend to the Kidneys which may result in lower back pain. Experience is very rarely ‘simple’ and many people have complex interactions (which will make sense to a practitioner, but probably not in a blog 🙂

Because Mental Health generally is such a misunderstood and many layered topic, it might be easier to discuss what Chinese medicine, in this context, isn’t:

– Its not therapy
– Its not counselling
– And its certainly not ‘alternative’

While these techniques may be useful, they are primarily ‘discovery’ or exploratory methods. There are many things to be said for talk therapies, and they can be useful for some people. However in many cases, discovery is simply not the same as recovery. As one of my psychologist clients once discussed about the differences between acupuncture for mental health, compared to psychology: we bypass the conscious pathways.

Acupuncture can start the recovery and healing process for and within you, subconsciously. We integrate the conscious and unconscious aspects of your mind and body.

This also means that many Eastern ‘physical’ practices, such as yoga, chi gung, massage, breath work, and Acupuncture, have the capacity, and in fact the tendency to initiate emotional release.

Would it surprise you to hear this is actually a great thing? Provided you are within a safe and secure environment, with a trained practitioner, there is no reason why feeling what you are feeling – even if its one of those emotions our society loves to label as ‘bad’, is bad. I often observe many people feel too busy to have time to deal with a difficult emotion. Something challenging or just awful happened, and because they had to work or had responsibilities, they never had filtering space to feel it. And hey, I’m completely cool with active and deliberate distraction from something horrific to be able to just get through it (I’ve been there) – but this is a process that is hopefully temporary and not the permanent state of affairs. There is often also a powerful will to be ‘fine’ and capable and dealing well with everything. Which is also very alluring (and another thing many of us have taken much too far) – as long as you are aware of the time and place for these mechanisms, which is not all the time! We all create strategies to cope, just get through it, and avoid pain. These mechanisms are important and fantastic: until they just aren’t. Old patterns need to shift if they aren’t serving you well. So do emotions. And thats when staying stuck in them can have a real impact on your health and happiness.

It’s difficult to explain exactly what and how Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can do this kind of setting: it’s a different, holistic experience that words don’t begin to encompass it. No – one can explain it to you – you have to experience it for yourself.