Pointspace’s September roundup | Acupuncture does help for chronic pain and proven to treat tension-type headaches and migraines

Image: Katie Blench via Flickr

London said good bye to the Paralympic Games and hello to Christmas goods in the shops (yes really, mince pies and Santa-shaped chocolates). I discovered two really interesting facts:

  • Did you know Paralympic sprinter Jerome Singleton has degrees in math, physics and engineering and worked for NASA and CERN?
  • To celebrate the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, a symbolic meal of apples and honey is eaten to represent hopes for sweetness in the months to come. So sweet.

1.  We all know that hand washing is the easiest and simplest form of defense against infections and cross transmissions. Indeed, Florence Nightingale was talking about it over a hundred years ago. We teach little kids the importance of hand washing. I have chronically dry skin from washing my hands before, during and after every acupuncture treatment with a client. So why is it that I still see people in public bathrooms splash a bit of water about, or even worse, just walk out? And why is it that there are still healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, who don’t practice regular hand hygiene?

2.  Acupuncture isn’t a cure-all for every symptom and condition under the sun, but there are certain issues that it is very effective for, pain relief being one of them. Due to the way clinical trials are designed though, it’s been somewhat difficult to really find a way to show acupuncture in a scientific setting. While we should be careful when using words like ‘proof’, a new study with evidence in support of an acupuncture analgesic effect is still interesting.

The study, published in the prestigious Archives of Internal Medicine on September 10th, showed that for each of the four conditions (back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain) the analgesic effect of true acupuncture was slightly better than that of placebo acupuncture. However, the difference between true acupuncture and usual care alone was found to be much larger and of clinical significance.

3.  The same study also appeared in Medpage Today which provides physicians a clinical perspective on the breaking medical news that their patients are reading.  It discussed not only the analysis but also the mechanisms of acupuncture. “How acupuncture works” seems to be a defining question for many, a question which medical and technological advances can’t provide an answer for just yet. In an invited commentary accompanying the meta-analysis, Andrew L. Avins, MD asks:

“But whether that should mean acupuncture has no value for patients, largely because of uncertainty as to its mechanisms of action, is a crucial concern…. Perhaps a more productive strategy at this point would be to provide whatever benefits we can for our patients, while we continue to explore more carefully all mechanisms of healing.”

This is a welcome sensibility. As with the creation of the universe, just because we don’t know how it works doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

4. It was a busy month for acupuncture. Information released by NICE (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence) on September 19th reported that overuse of painkillers is one of the most common causes of headaches affecting about one in 50 people. Women are five times more likely to suffer from these.

For tension headaches and migraines, NICE concluded that acupuncture is effective and recommended it as a preventative treatment. Read the full NICE report here.

5.  Bacon having a high salt content should be non news by now. But the very first sentence surprised me, bread is the biggest source of salt in the UK diet?

6.  This article got the geek in me very excited. One, it’s about genetics and two, it uses the word “holistic” to describe the complete picture instead of referring to alternative therapies or lifestyles.

You might also like:

Pointspace’s August Round-Up | 5 Most Common Side Effects of Acupuncture

How to Avoid Back Pain | Preventing and treating back pain


New MRI acupuncture research shows mind-body connection


A concept in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture is that the same symptoms can be caused by different factors and therefore the treatment for the same condition could be different depending on the individual. Imagine if you have a problem with always burning the dinner: you could try turning down the fire, adding more liquid, cooking the food for a shorter amount of time. Different changes but all result in a dinner that’s not charred and dry.


It is ironic then (to my eyes at least) that an article in Healthcare Medicine Institute reported that MRI acupuncture research showed a mind-body connection. 


Let me explain.

Criticism of acupuncture’s effectiveness has focused on the ability of sham acupuncture to produce clinical results. In clinical trials to show the effects of acupuncture, scientists perform needle stimulation at real acupuncture points, as well as some fake points which have no therapeutic purposes. It was noticed however that pain relief or reduction was noticed in subjects in both groups (individuals didn’t know whether they were receiving real or sham acupuncture). 


This provided a problem for the scientists: if the sham acupuncture managed to offer pain relief, then acupuncture as a therapy was most probably a placebo and more based on psychological factors. Critics jumped on that conclusion whilst acupuncturists claimed better trial design was needed. It still didn’t explain why sham acupuncture seemed to have a therapeutic effect.


Using MRI imaging, it showed that while sham acupuncture may superficially cause pain reduction, it wasn’t achieved by the same mechanisms as true acupuncture. Real acupuncture showed greater cortical activity and more importantly in different areas of the brain.


One result, two different ways.


So, it seems that just as there are sometimes different ways to treat the same symptom in TCM, clinical trials to see how acupuncture works is throwing up a similar concept. If it wasn’t for research like this, we would never have known that both true and sham acupuncture turns on different areas of the brains.


Photo credit: Vivian Chen via flickr

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Stretching is key to yoga’s back pain relief



Yoga can help improve the symptoms of chronic low back pain, but it’s unlikely to be the meditation aspect according to researchers. Publishing online in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Karen Sherman PhD and colleagues expected yoga to ease back pain more than stretching exercises so they conducted a trial study of 228 adults.


They found that both yoga and simple stretching exercises benefitted those with moderate chronic low back pain more than those who were given with self-care books advising on exercise and lifestyle modifications. However, there were no differences in improving function between yoga and the stretching exercises, leading the researchers to conclude that it is mainly the stretching involved and not the meditation component.


The study was limited in size, but the take home point is that both yoga and stretching are good, safe options for those with chronic low back pain. Dr Sherman notes that it is “important for the classes to be therapeutically oriented, geared for beginners, and taught by instructors who can modify postures for participants’ individual physical limitations”.



Sherman KJ, et al “A randomized trial comparing yoga, stretching, and a self-care book for chronic low-back painArch Intern Med 2011.


Photo credit: Nicholas via flickr

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Acupuncture being trialled in Australian emergency departments for acute pain relief



The other day an article was brought to my attention by Colette Day, an acupuncturist based in Essex, UK (via twitter, embrace the technology!). An old article from 2009, it was about a 3 year clinical trial using acupuncture in emergency departments of Australian hospitals to treat migraine, back pain and ankle pain.


What caught my eye (and warmed my heart) while reading the article was that these trials were employing traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to work in the emergency departments. In the NHS there are “pain clinics” where acupuncture treatment (usually five sessions) is offered, but there is definitely no such initiative in A&E. During my time at the Whittington Hospital pain clinic (in Archway, north London) most patients there were being treated for chronic back pain, but it would have been interesting to see patients being treated for acute injuries.


Another nice aspect of the Australian clinical trials is the fact they are specifically using traditional acupuncture based on the theories of Chinese medicine, as opposed to medical “dry needling” acupuncture. This takes it one step further than the needles-activating-nerve-endings school of thought and acknowledging that the same syndrome can derive from different patterns. As a traditional acupuncturist, I applaud this recognition.


We are now more than halfway through the trials, and it would definitely be interesting to see the results next year. Do you think this will happen soon in the UK?


Photo credit: Smabs Sputzer via flickr

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Pointspace’s Monthly Round-Up | April



Time is certainly flying by, it seems like just the other day when we were celebrating a friend’s birthday (yes he is an almost-April-Fool’s-baby). For me, April has been a strange month, akin to summer vacation when I was still in school, what with the clear blue skies, heavily scented wisterias, Easter and bank holidays. Now with the Royal Wedding fast approaching, it remains to be seen just how many street parties there will be.


What else has caught my eye this month?


When I was 14, I was almost run over by a car. Back in those days, as it still is now, the number 58 was the only bus that went from the foot of the mountain where my school was up to Panorama where I lived. Walking, I had it timed at 20 minutes downhill and a much longer 45 minutes uphill, walking along winding roads on the numerous occasions the sidewalks disappeared and crazed (so they seemed to me) Alsatians barked from behind gated compounds. By car, providing there was no traffic it only took 10 minutes; with the bus it took slightly longer as it struggled to change gears up that incline (that was the older generation of buses, the new ones didn’t seem to find it such a struggle last time I took that route).

There was no real bus schedule that I could remember, the bus just seemed to come when it did, sometimes every 30 minutes or sometimes within 10 minutes of the previous one. So when the bus was spotted in the distance, us school kids always made a run for it. Getting from the school gates to my bus stop involved crossing over a wide road that was theoretically 2 lanes, but was more like four lanes for traffic to turn off and into the school. That day near the end of the school year, as I ran across the road and into the paths of cars, time stood slowed down. I was still in motion but everything around me slowed down to a turtle’s pace, allowing me to outrun all the cars and most importantly, the bus. At the bus stop, my classmate who had witnessed the whole scene was in shock at seeing me unscathed. I don’t remember being in any particular danger but he assured me I was “this close to being knocked down”.

1.  In this wonderful article from the New Yorker, Burkhard Bilger profiles David Eagleman, a neuroscientist who studies the mysteries of time and the brain. His own experience from falling off a roof as a boy has prompted him to ask “can fear slow time?”.


2.  In the Guardian, Frank Swain pondered the links between changes in human behaviour and parasitic infections. News of the voodoo wasps which appeared to have had their bodies inhabited by parasites that controlled their actions and ultimately causing them to self-destruct is fascinating in a macabre sort of way. Now research is showing that zombie-like infections, while not exactly making us the walking dead just yet, are not only possible in humans but are actually occurring.


3.  Jennifer Dubowsky is an acupuncturist in Chicago (with the delectable moniker of tcm007). Here she writes about acupuncture and back pain in simple layman terms, going through the causes of back pain and what happens during a typical treatment.


4.  From back pain to the face. When London Beauty Queen came to have a cosmetic facial acupuncture treatment with me, she didn’t know what to expect. Read about her experience from the point of view of a first-timer.

5.  And finally, something heart-warming. I used to associate flash mobs with mobile commercials and I don’t know what is different about this, I suspect it’s the song or the fact it’s the first flash mob I’ve seen that involves children, but you can’t help smiling.


I hope you’ve all had a great month, and are all geared up for May.


Photo credit: Bamshad Houshyani via flickr

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Four Easy Ways to Avoid Unnecessary Injuries


Image: Martin Strattner


I woke up the other day with “iphone hand”. I first noticed when I realized I couldn’t quite hold my toothbrush, and pressing on the sore point (Hegu for those of you interested in acupuncture) sent the ache shooting up to my elbow.


I make a conscious effort to sit without slouching and to walk with my head held high (it has a wonderful effect on my mood as well as my posture) and here I am, victim to a rookie mistake.

I can’t hold my cup of tea!

The previous night while leaning on my side in bed, I used the ipod touch for a bit of pre-sleep browsing (another no-no!). It has been documented anecdotally that the touchscreen flicking causes the thumb to strain itself in an unnatural way. I didn’t do myself any favours either by being on the side of my itouch-using hand which caused me to tighten my grip on it as I continued to thumb-flick without a care in the world.


The result was a hand that ached and my jar opening ability severely hampered. Sigh.


A little b it of acupuncture eased the problem but the truth is, this was such a silly injury. It made me think of some easy ways to avoid silly problems.


1. Bend your knees, slightly.

Your knees aren’t only designed for going up and down stairs and to help lift heavy objects. I bend my knees when I’m standing on the train or bus, I find it helps me absorb the shocks and jolts better. I also bend my knees ever so slightly when I’m chopping at the kitchen counter or washing up the dishes. And I bend my knees a lot more when I’m putting laundry into the washing machine, and when I’m brushing my teeth. It’s becomesuch a habit now I do it without thinking.


2.  Drink water.

Often, a headache or dizziness is your body’s way of telling you it’s parched. Sometimes you eat because you think you’re hungry when really your body is just thirsty. Make it a regular factor in your day; drink little and frequently, don’t down 3 liters in 15 minutes!

Besides the health factor, it also does wonders for your skin.


3.  Don’t hold one position for long periods of time.

I wouldn’t have had iphone claw if I had relaxed my hand at regular intervals. Office workers are reminded to blink and stretch and waiters who have to stand all day should try standing on their toes every now and then just to stretch. If you’re flying long haul, try not to sit during the entire flight. Incorporate a little walk around into your bathroom break.


4.  Turn down the volume.

We spend an awful lot of our day with earphones in our ears (and listening to some people’s music despite those earphones being in their ears). We only have one set of ears and it’s only wise that we try to preserve their health. Loud music is damaging to the ears, but loud music blasting that close to the ears is very damaging. If I can hear your music through your earphones, either the volume is too loud or you need better earphones which don’t bleed, thus allowing you to turn down the volume.

And if you’re a cyclist, runner, jogger or pedestrian, you really shouldn’t have both earphones in. How are you meant to be aware of your surroundings if you are entirely in your own musically-lovely world??


What other things do you do to avoid unnecessary injuries?  


Other posts you may be interested in:

How to Avoid Back Pain | Preventing and treating back pain

Help your body fight against the effects of winter’s dry air



How to Avoid Back Pain | Preventing and treating back pain



Image: Erik Ogan


This week (11 – 15 October, 2010) is BackCare Awareness Week. An annual event organized by the largest back care hello this is a charity in the UK, it is aimed at raising awareness of back pain: the causes, prevention and treatment.


Back pain and the health of your spine is something that many of don’t think about, until they are affected by it. A study reported that almost half (49%) of the UK population has experienced back pain and it has been estimated that 4 in 5 adults will experience back pain sometime in their life. For some, it can be just an ache or soreness that will go away on its own after a short time, but for others, the pain can be such that the quality of life is severely hampered.



The lower back is responsible for supporting most of the body’s weight, and as you can imagine this puts the back under a lot of strain. This will be more apparent as a larger portion of society races towards obesity. Incidences of back pain have risen over the decades and this could be due to our lifestyles being more sedentary than previous generations’. It could also be due to the fact that improved awareness of back pain has resulted in more people reporting it and seeking treatment. Regardless, back pain can be truly unbearable so prevention is better than cure. Here are four tips to maintaining a healthy back:

  • Everyone should know this by now, but many still forget to implement it in their day to day lives. When picking up anything heavy, always bend from the knees, not the back. Don’t do this just for heavy boxes, getting a suitcase into a car counts too!
  • Check your posture, slouching is not just a no-no for children. Besides sitting correctly in a supportive chair, take a closer look at how you walk. We may not notice this but anything from fallen arches (flat feet), painful shoes, to our actual gait can affect how we walk. This could lead to the body overcompensating and can affect our knees and in turn, our backs.
  • Exercise helps keep your back fit and healthy thus helping to prevent injury or possibly speeding up recovery time. Do stretches to help keep your back flexible, but never strain.
  • Along with exercise and an active lifestyle, eat sensibly and well. Besides keeping you healthy, a good diet helps fight against obesity thus lessening the strain on your back.
  • Carry loads in a backpack and not a sling or messenger bag, so that the weight can be evenly distributed. Oversized handbags are fashionable but having all the weight on one side can affect your posture and back.



If you do suffer a back injury or you experience back pain, you should seek medical attention. In some cases, the sooner you treat the pain, the better. Nowadays, sufferers have many options besides conventional western medicine and alternative therapies are especially effective for back pain that doesn’t have an obvious neurological or spinal problem.

  • Osteopathy, physiotherapy and chiropractic are common therapies that involve physical manipulation.
  • Alexander’s Technique is a passive therapy that helps people correct their posture and unlearn bad habits.


Remember, your back is for your life.

Have you experienced back pain? What treatments did you find helpful?


Other posts you may be interested in:

Four Easy Ways to Avoid Unnecessary Injuries

Five Reasons to See an Acupuncturist