Integrative HealthAcupuntureYour first visitHow to find me

Covered in this chapter:

What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a system of healing which has been practised in China and other Eastern countries for thousands of years. Although often described as a means of pain relief, it is in fact used to treat people with a wide range of illnesses. These might include anxiety states, arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, circulatory problems, coughs, colds, depression, digestive disorders, facial paralysis, fibrositis, high blood pressure, HIV and HepB+C, indeterminate aches and pains, infertility, menstrual problems, migraines, rheumatism, sciatica, sleep problems, skin conditions or ulcers.

Acupuncture is a safe treatment for all. It has proved to be effective in pregnancy management and for the relief of pain in childbirth. Acupuncture is also helpful for people trying to overcome addictions such as those related to smoking, alcohol, food or drugs.

Some people may have acupuncture as a preventive measure to strengthen their constitution, or because they feel unwell in themselves without being “ill” in a Western sense. It can also be used alongside conventional medicine in the treatment of both acute and chronic diseases.

However, it is important for me to point out that the above said is not a proven fact and not a claim I am making, but rather my opinion, since neither the CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) nor the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) have so far accepted that there is sufficient evidence that acupuncture works in such situations.

A few words about its traditional roots: According to traditional Chinese philosophy, our health is dependent on the body’s motivating life force energy, known as Qi, which moves in a smooth and balanced way through a series of channels beneath the skin, and deeper inside the body. Health is the state of perfect harmony of the Qi, and when Qi becomes unbalanced, illness results. The flow of Qi can be disturbed by many factors. These include emotional states such as anxiety, stress, anger, fear or grief, hereditary factors, poor diet, weather conditions, infections, toxic substances and traumas.

Top of page


Description of the treatment?
There are well over 500 recognised acupuncture points on the body, of which I use about 100 on a regular basis. For the first consultation I often choose only a small number of needles, like 2 or 4, which will help you to get used to the acupuncture and show me how you respond to the treatment. On subsequent treatments I more commonly choose between 6 and 12 points.

The majority of needles will be placed in the arms or legs, below the elbows or knees. This is where the channels have influential points known as the command points. Needles are also placed around the local area of the problem. Another area where needles can be applied is the ear, which is known as auricular acupuncture. You will usually remain dressed during the treatment, with the clothing only removed to reveal the site of the needling. If needles are placed on the back, chest, abdomen, head or neck, it is usually sufficient to just open a few buttons, or slightly lower the shirt, skirt or trousers.

Most patients hardly feel the initial insertion of the needle. Acupuncture needles are many times finer than injection needles, or those used in blood tests, and bear little resemblance to the latter. Once a needle is in place, it should be gently manipulated, usually rotated or softly moved in and out (“lift and thrust”), in order to obtain the correct therapeutic effect. This is known as “obtaining deqi (arrival of Qi)”, and should be felt as a spreading sensation. It can be very subtle, like a tingling, or the sensation of a magnetic field, or it can be stronger, like a mild toothache. Occasionally it is quite powerful, like an electric current. If the spreading is felt along the pathway of the channel, this can be a very good indication that the point has been chosen and needled well, and the response might be favourable.

When there is coldness, and the aim is to warm the acupuncture channel, I may use Moxa, which can be used without needles. Moxa is a dried herb, which gets burnt over the point without burning you. This is generally very popular and well tolerated. Some patients are troubled by its smell, which is the reason why I now mainly use Japanese smokeless Moxa.

Occasionally I apply a minute, battery-generated electric current (1mVolt, 1 mAmp) to the needles, which you will feel as a gentle tapping or fluttering. This is used in inflammatory conditions, where the electro-acupuncture is often better tolerated than strong hand manipulation.

I usually accompany the acupuncture with a form of healing, which I like to call ‘qi healing’. My hands are placed several inches above the needles. In the manner of performing Qi Gong I allow the energy (the qi) to flow through my left hand into a particular point and along the channel, to be received out of another point through my right hand. This you often feel as a warmth and heaviness, which is usually very relaxing.

Top of page


How does acupuncture work?
There has been a vast body of clinical studies and a plethora of research trying to explain how acupuncture works. The answer to this question still largely depends on the paradigm in which we think.

Acupuncture has been shown in research to be effective in many clinical conditions. Examples are respiratory disorders like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis, obstetrics (labour pain and delivery time) and with infertility. Also in a wide variety of digestive disorders including hypoactive gastric function, hyperacidity, stomach ulcers, constipation, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.

Acupuncture improves the microcirculation and the blood flow velocity, lowers blood pressure, regulates the heartbeat and is thought to help with angina and improve the coronary blood flow (oxygen supply to the heart muscle). It regulates blood platelets and coagulant factors, the prothrombin index and the blood sedimentation rate. Acupuncture has a variety of metabolic effects including regulating blood sugar levels (non-insulin dependent diabetes), improving the adrenal and pituitary functions, regulating thyroxin levels and helping with the concentration of the blood fats, the triglycerides, lipids and cholesterol.

Acupuncture has an anti allergic effect, which helps with hay fever and allergic shock (anaphylaxis). I could list many more effects, which have been documented, but I hope that the above helps to illustrate the point that acupuncture is a useful tool to help the body to heal itself.

There have been many reports of acupuncture being effective in enhancing the body’s immune response. I have personal experience with successfully using acupuncture and moxibustion in raising the level of the red and white blood cells (bone marrow function) during chemotherapy.

The Western scientific model:
The list of documented effects of acupuncture and moxibustion is longer than I could possibly present in this context, the above merely describe some of the most important examples. Modern science has come up with a number of hypotheses explaining how acupuncture works.
The most popular models are:

  • Neural model: It is now known that pain is regulated via so-called synapses on which both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are active. Under normal circumstances they operate in a balance meaning that we feel touch and pressure, but not pain since the stimulation acts below the pain threshold. When the tissue becomes disturbed through undue force, injury or inflammation, the excitatory neurotransmitters get the upper hand and we feel pain as a result.
    It has been shown in research that acupuncture can release inhibitory neurotransmitters like beta-endorphin, met-enkephalin and dynorphin A+B. This effect can also be used as anaesthesia, which has caught the eye of the scientific community since the 1970’s. This has contributed to the widespread belief that acupuncture is a treatment for pain relief.
  • Humoral model: This model takes into account that many more substances, including hormones have been found to play a role in the acupuncture effect. These include serotonin, oxytocin, histamine, ACTH (adrenocorticoptrophic hormone), prostaglandins and quite a few others. There are many complaints like skin diseases, menstrual disorders and infections, which respond to acupuncture treatment, where postulating the humoral model makes a lot of sense.
  • Bioelectric model: It has been shown in research that acupuncture points are areas of relatively high electro-conductivity (electrical permeability), which can be demonstrated with a simple instrument called a point locator. This has been used to confirm the exact location of the traditionally described acupuncture points.

    The fact that the body has an interconnecting system of collagen fibres called the fascia, which together with the so-called interstitial fluid facilitates the flowing of minute bioelectric currents, may be the explanation for the workings of this interesting model. Furthermore it has been shown that the electro-conductivity increases or decreases in certain acupuncture points when there is an imbalance or a diseased state in the body. This seems to corroborate some, if not much of the traditional acupuncture theory.

    Alan Bensoussan, in his book “The Vital Meridian”, sums up the essence of this last model in three aspects. A) Points and channels exhibit an electromagnetic nature. B) Needling induces alterations in the electromagnetic properties of the channels and tissues. C) Electromagnetic fields significantly influence biological matter and physiological functions.

The jury is still out, and it is probably right to say at this stage that we do not fully understand how acupuncture works. However, there is now a lot of known data, which can go a long way to explain how acupuncture works according to the western model.

The Traditional model: Fundamental to understanding health and illness in traditional Chinese medicine is the concept of a life force, called Qi (as in Tai Qi, Qi Gong and Reiki). This is rather similar to the concept of atoms, where the balance of electro-magnetic forces determines the density, temperature and function of matter.
All manifestations of matter, not just human beings, have a life force. To give an example: Stone has a very tightly packed density of atoms, it holds plenty of potential energy with relatively little movement (kinetic energy), hence it is hard, immobile and by nature cold. In Chinese medicine the Qi of a stone would be called extreme Yin.

On the other hand a gas, like helium, contains very few atoms, which are moving extremely fast. It is the opposite of dense by nature, quick moving, volatile, and tends to be hot. The Qi of helium is therefore extremely Yang.
Our body is likewise made up of matter, which operates in-between these two extremes of Yin and Yang. Every body structure, organ function, body fluid, etc. can be understood in terms of a manifestation of Qi, as well as described in terms of Yin and Yang

In Chinese medicine health is seen as a continuously maintained equilibrium of the various manifestations of Qi, which for practical purposes are subdivided into the ‘five substances’, essence, Qi, blood, body fluids and spirit.

Acupuncture is the thousands of years old practice of sticking pins into specific points, which are known to tonify, move, reinforce, reduce, harmonise or regulate the Qi, depending on which action is required according to the principles of a traditional diagnosis. The latter is a lengthy, complicated subject in it’s own right. Suffice it to say that tongue and pulse diagnosis form an important part of it.

So if the body shows signs of heat and excess, like this is the case in an overactive thyroid, we aim to find appropriate points that can help to reduce the Yang, clear excess, calm overactivity and cool the body. This action, called reducing or sedating, is enhanced by a specific way of manipulating the needle, in this case forceful anti-clockwise lifting and gentle clockwise thrusting, with a large amplitude.

If the body shows signs of tiredness, underactivity, coldness, etc. our action should be reinforcing, tonifying and warming. Now the needle action tends to be gentle clockwise thrusting followed by gentle and slow anticlockwise lifting, with small amplitude. We also often use a herb called moxa which gets burned on or near the needle (moxibustion).

The examples above are just two of a variety of permutations, and the process of diagnosing and treating can be quite complicated in some cases. What points to choose and which action to perform on them was, I presume, empirically found and passed on over many thousands of years. Much of what we practice as traditional acupuncture today was formulated from around 200 BC (Yellow Emperors Classic) through to the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) and beyond. Even the last 100 years have seen plenty of revisions and new concepts of ‘traditional’ acupuncture.
How the needles and the described needling techniques actually achieve these effects has never been specifically explained in the traditional literature. Wanting to know how it works seems to me to be a desire of our modern western culture. The traditional Chinese practitioners, as far as I can see, were happy with observing that it works, rather than wanting to explain exactly how it works.

Top of page

Are there any side effects or risks involved with acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a remarkably safe treatment. Since we nowadays only use pre-sterilised, disposable needles, the transmission of infectious diseases is not an issue.
Some acupuncture points are over areas of the body, where too deep or in-expert needling could cause problems, like in the case of needling over the chest and upper back. Here great care has to be taken not to puncture the lung and cause a pneumothorax.

Occasionally an acupuncture needle can hit a blood vessel and leave a bruise. This happens especially when the point is ‘congested’, as may be the case on the temples during a headache, for example. I try my utmost to anticipate these bruises, by pressing on the point with a cotton swab, after the needle has been removed.
Very occasionally a patient feels faint during the treatment, which means I take out the needles immediately and place the legs higher than the head.

Acupuncture, being a system of regulating the body’s energy flow rather than the application of an external substance, has no side effects as such. However, it is possible for symptoms to get slightly worse before they get better, which usually only happens in the beginning of treatment. This phenomenon, more common in chronic conditions and well known in other naturopathic systems of healing, is the consequence of adjustments made by the body during the process of rebalancing

Most patients feel very relaxed after a treatment. In some cases you can feel tired or a little spaced out afterwards. This may affect your ability to drive a car, or going to work immediately after the treatment.

Back to top of page

When should acupuncture not be used?
There are very few contraindications to acupuncture. If you are needle phobic or tend to faint with a treatment, acupuncture clearly is not for you. If you are on blood thinning medication (Warfarin, Persantin, etc.) it is important that you tell me about that. Some consider endocarditis (an inflammatory condition causing damaged heart valves) to be a contraindication for acupuncture. Being on steroid medication is not a contraindication, but it will lessen your ability to respond to the acupuncture treatment.

Top of page

Can acupuncture be used while I am on medication?
You should always tell me about any medication you are taking, as this is part of your condition and may affect your response to the acupuncture treatment.

Being on medication is no contraindication to having acupuncture. The acupuncture treatment may enable you to reduce or even stop taking some forms of medication, but I recommend that you should not change your prescription without consulting with the doctor who prescribed it.

I think it is a good idea if you inform your doctor about having acupuncture, and if at any point you would like me to communicate with your doctor, I am happy to write to him or her.

It is my policy, however, to always respect your choices. In other words, recommending a certain strategy will not mean that I demand that you carry it out as a precondition for my treating you.

Top of page

Can I have acupuncture without needles?
If you cannot tolerate needles, or the thought puts you off too much, I can apply pointed magnets, which are able to influence the Qi flow in the meridian. They adhere to acupuncture points with the help of small suction cups.
I may also choose to massage over selected acupuncture points, or apply Qi healing, a technique I have borrowed from the ancient practice of Qi Gong, where the desired Qi flow is imagined and projected into the acupuncture point through the middle finger.

When there is coldness, and the aim is to warm the acupuncture channel, I may use moxa, which can be used without needles. Moxa is a dried herb, which gets burnt over the point without burning you. This is generally very popular and well tolerated. The trouble with non-smokeless moxa is its smell, which is the reason why I don’t use it when working at The Body Conditioning Studio.

Top of page

Home | Integrative health | Acupuncture | Your first visit | How to find me| Privacy Notice