Frequently Asked Questions

This is a page of common questions and their answers. If you wish to ask me anything else please email me at steve.woodley@yahoo.co.uk and I will get back to you as soon as I can.


Herbs


Other Methods


Geneeral Questions




Acupuncture



Q: How do I know if acupuncture can help me?

A: Acupuncture is the art of stimulation with needles, electricity or heat. The needles alone stimulate nerves and the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which can help with symptoms of pain and give a feeling of relaxation or well-being assisting you to cope.

It is important to note that if there are underlying structural reasons for your condition it may only be able to provide symptomatic relief while we search for methods of self-management.

I often compare acupuncture to rebooting your computer: when its new it runs like a dream but as it gets older and we fill it with junk then it slows down or becomes buggy and by rebooting we can often clear a lot of problems. However, if the screen is cracked it will not do anything and some problems may only go away for a time before it needs another reboot. In these cases we can observe when the problem returns and try to find the offending behaviour and fix it or find a work around.

The BAcC has provides an A-Z of conditions with references to the scientific research on each one to help people decide if acupuncture may be a suitable route for them.




Q: What can I expect from a treatment?

A: Your first treatment will involve taking a full case history. This may also involve some special tests or examinations to help us identify any particular structures involved or a discussion of personal life issues that may be affecting the problem.

Once I have an idea of the area to treat I may palpate to assess any areas that feel abnormal and use acupuncture, manual techniques or ancillary therapies to initiate the change we want.

This may take very different forms depending on whether the problem is external, such as musculoskeletal, where a lot of massage and quick needling may be done, or internal, working with the mind, where I may select a few meaningful points, and leave them while the sensations help you relax and reflect on the issues raised.

At the end I may prescribe some exercises and suggest lifestyle changes to help you manage better at home.




Q: What can I expect from follow up sessions?

A: Follow up treatments will usually involve a catch up with how the things are progressing and either a repeat or a modification of the original treatment to accommodate any new developments, fine tune what we did before, or try a change of style to find a method that works better.




Q: How often will I need to receive treatment?

A: Once per week is normal at the beginning, sometimes twice during an acute phase, until the condition resolves or is brought under control as best we can. The general rule is short frequent treatments for acute conditions, more spaced appointments over a longer time for chronic ones.

I often compare acupuncture to learning a new skill: The more often you practice the more quickly you learn. If you practise exercises or make changes at home you will improve faster and need less time with an instructor, but two sessions a week will naturally see changes quicker than one. When the skill is learned (i.e. the body is under better control) you should be able to practise on your own but you might want to catch up occasionally to see if any fine tuning can be achieved or for a boost when you feel your skills are slipping.




Q: What should I do before I arrive?

A: Make sure you have eaten something that day but try to avoid a large meal in the hour before arriving as it may affect you during treatment. Also avoid alcohol as it thins the blood and may make you more prone to bleeding or bruising.

I have prepared a short checklist of things to do before your first appointment.




Q: Where will you need to reach? / Will I have to remove my clothes?

A: For hygiene reasons it is not possible to needle through clothing so the areas I need to reach must be available. The exact areas depend on the issue but as a general rule I will need access to the lower arms and legs, around the affected area and sometimes the back. I advise people to wear loose clothing that is easy to move or roll up or take off where necessary.




Q: How will I feel after treatment?

A: Usually relaxed and calm. Some people can feel a little drowsy or light headed and if this is the case it is not recommended to drive or do anything that puts you at risk immediately afterwards.

Some occasional side-effects of acupuncture may include some soreness or bruising around the needling sites but these are quite rare and go away quickly. After tui na some people feel a little sore in the muscles that have been manipulated but resolves quickly.

Occasionally after the initial treatment a condition can flare up as the body enters a "healing crisis" and adjusts to the new balance but this is often seen as a good sign that the body is attempting to address the problem.




Q: Is acupuncture safe?

A: All members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) observe a Code of Safe Practice which lays down stringent standards of hygiene and sterilisation for needles and other equipment. All needles come in pre-sterilised blister packs which are disposed of immediately after use. These procedures have been approved by the Department of Health as providing protection against the transmission of infectious diseases.

Minor adverse effects such as soreness around the needle site, bruising or minor bleeding may happen but serious side effects from professional acupuncture are few. When practised correctly acupuncture is one of the safest therapies to receive since it involves almost no forceful motions or heavy pressure.



Q: Does acupuncture hurt?

A: The aim of acupuncture is to relieve pain, not cause it!

As a form of nervous stimulation some sensations are desirable, described in Chinese literature as deqi, and usually experienced as a numbness, heaviness, aching, dragging, pulling or distending feeling that may radiate some distance from the point. Most people find these sensations interesting but everyone has different tolerance of stimulation and if they are uncomfortable or producing a sharp pain then you should tell your acupuncturist who can reposition the needle.



Q: How does acupuncture work?

A: Acupuncture has been controversial in Western medicine for so long that we actually know more about it than we do some drugs but while many theories have been presented few are universally accepted. What we do know is that when the strange needle sensations known as de qi are achieved the signal travels along the nerves releasing endogenous opioids that block pain signals and oxytocin that produces sensations of well-being. It may also have many psychological mechanisms that are not very well understood.

I often explain to people that acupuncture can be seen to have developed from two main areas of Chinese culture: massage and meditation. On one hand there is the musculoskeletal style that is like massage but instead of using pressure on painful spots we use a needle. The second type is like meditation but where certain points we want someone to focus on are stimulated. There is considerable scope for creativity and cross-over for both of these modes of treatment as well as with other modes of Chinese medicine.

For a summary of all the modern theories of acupuncture's mechanisms, I have written an article here.



Herbs



Q: How do I prepare the herbs?

A: An instruction sheet will be provided with your herbs but they are traditionally boiled in a saucepan to make a strong tea. An alternative method is to steep them overnight in boiling water sealed in an insulated flask. For some preparations I may grind and make into capsules, creams or powders in which case I will advise on a case by case basis.




Q: How often do I need to take herbs?

A: One bag will usually make four doses to be taken twice per day unless specified differently.




Q: How long will I need to take herbs?

A: This depends on the condition being treated and there is no absolute answer. A simple remedy for a cold should be taken until its gone while a chronic condition may need several months until the symptoms resolve and we are confident that the body is strong enough for it not to return. Some conditions can only be managed and may need to be treated indefinitely.




Q: Does herbal medicine always taste bad?

A: Chinese herbal formulas are very unlikely to win any cookery contests. Their ingredients are selected for their effects and not necessarily for their pleasant tastes which can mean some of them are quite bitter or sour. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them taste quite "woody", "bark-like" or "leafy". Not all of them are bad though and after a time many people can find their tastes adjusting or expanding to appreciate a different range.




Q: Is herbal medicine the same as homeopathy?

A: Most definitely not. Homeopathy is the administration of medicines that have been so diluted there is no active ingredient still present. Herbal medicine is using plants for medical purposes and many of the plants have known active compounds. Although Chinese medicine values mild herbs to take often in order to preserve health, it does contain stronger substances which contain powerful active ingredients for clearing symptoms. Some of these such as artemesinin for malaria and ephedrine as a decongestent have been extracted and made into modern drugs.



Other Methods



Q: What is tui na?

A: Tui na (literally "pushing and pulling") is a term applied hand-on manual therapies practised throughout China. It involves locating areas of tension, stiffness or pain and releasing them through a variety of massage techniques, movements and pressure. It is possible to use this instead of acupuncture or in combination during a treatment.



I have prepared a page with more of information on Tui na if you wish to find out more.


Q: What is electro-acupuncture?
A: Electro-acupuncture, sometimes called P.E.N.S. (Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), is where a mild electric current is pulsed through the needles as a means of stimulation.

I have prepared a page with more information on electro-acupuncture if you wish to know more.



Q: What is moxibustion?



A: Moxibustion is when the herb Artemisia vulgaris, Mugwort or Moxa (from Japanese Mogusa), is burned on or near an acupuncture point to activate it using heat like an early version of a heat lamp.

The use of heat to treat acupuncture points is so common that the Chinese word for acupuncture, zhenjiu, actually means "needle / moxa" therapy.

I have prepared a page with more information on moxibustion if you wish to know more.


Q: What are cupping, gua sha and "seven star / plum blossom" needles?

A: These are three ancillary techniques that are usually included under the term acupuncture.
Cupping uses suction to pull the skin up, like a reverse massage.
Gua sha is a kind of instrument assisted massage using horn or stone tools to scrape the skin.
Plum Blossom Needling a means of stimulating the skin with many tiny needles on a small hammer or roller.
I have prepared a page with more information on cupping, Gua sha and Plum Blossom needling if you wish to know more.



General Questions



Q: Should I tell my doctor?

A: You do not have to tell your doctor but if you are receiving treatment from them then it is highly recommended that you inform them of your plans to receive acupuncture or take Chinese herbs, especially if you intend to use Chinese medicine to help you reduce or stop taking medication. It is important that your doctor be consulted regarding any change in prescription and I cannot advise on how to do this. You should always tell your practitioner if you are on any prescription medication as it may affect your response to treatment and you should never stop taking prescription medication without professional guidance.




Q: Where does acupuncture come from?

A: People have been manipulating their bodies for as long as we can tell and the true origins of acupuncture probably pre-date literature. Acupuncture most likely evolved out of earlier practices like massage, bloodletting or the lancing and cauterisation of infected wounds. The Chinese concept of Qi, a mysterious agent of change, which early observers realised could manipulated without necessarily leaking blood made it evolve into a system of stimulating the nervous system to affect change, a practice which is still relevant today long after the European traditions of piercing body parts died out.

For those interested in reading more this page has a more complete (although still brief) history of acupuncture and Chinese medicine.



Q: How does traditional Chinese medicine fit into modern medicine?

A: Acupuncture and western medicine are based on two fundamentally different principles, which means they have had a complex relationship.

Western medicine is usually based upon detecting measurable imbalances in the body and correcting them with isolated interventions (a prescription or surgery), while Chinese medicine was developed long before those tests were possible and instead saw illness as an imbalance in the relationship between a person and their emotions or environment. It attempts to facilitate a change in lifestyle that will rebalance these, utilising acupuncture, massage and herbs to facilitate a person on this journey.

Recent medical developments in Systems Theory have speculated that complex chronic conditions may be a dysfunction in the communication between systems which may be better treated by system wide adjustments in behaviour than in hoping to find a new drug or procedure that will fix the broken part. The principles of Chinese medicine have helped in this search and the notion of providing a subtle push that helps a person readjust themselves from the top down is gaining ground in these areas.



Q: What is the difference between the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS), the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP) and the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC)?

A: Acupuncture is not a state regulated profession so there are many professional bodies regulating its practice. I belong to the British Acupuncture Council which insists on members completing a minimum 3 year full time degree course specialising in acupuncture covering Chinese theories, western anatomy and medical sciences. For further information on regulatory practices in the UK I have prepared this page summarising each of the institutions.



Q: I have heard about different styles of acupuncture: medical acupuncture, TCM, five elements, etc. What is the difference?

A: Many different schools of acupuncture have existed throughout history and there are still many around today. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses. this page summarises each styles with a brief explanation of its strengths and weaknesses.



Q: What style do you practice?

A: I was initially trained in TCM acupuncture but have expanded upon this with training in tui na, a solid reading of modern theories and research, contemplation upon classical sources and some creative touches of my own based on my own background in martial arts, anthropology and body art.

For more information on my influences and interests you can see my interests page.