Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Cupping, Health, Uncategorized


Photo courtesy of Bob Wong, Art of acupuncture.

I love this photo. It’s very cheeky. It makes me think of the sort of thing that could happen when you get a group of Chinese medicine practitioners together at a dinner party, perhaps during the washing up.

So what is cupping and when do we use it?

I’d like to say at this point, I do use a professional cupping set! The cups themselves are either glass, plastic or bamboo. Traditionally, practitioners used a flame to create a vacuum effect which ‘sucks up’ the tissues which is known as fire cupping. Although I was taught this method, I prefer the ‘health & safety’ version of a plunger that attaches to a valve on the cup. I personally feel it gives me more control of the amount of suction I use.

Applying the cups ‘sucks up the tissues’ separating the muscle fascia and allowing the blood and fluids to move more freely in the tissues and muscles. In the old Chinese medicine texts, they talk about ‘drawing out the pathogenic evils’ a term I like actually. However, ‘mobilising the blood flow’ is probably a term we can better understand.

I use cupping a lot in my practice. Most commonly, for tension in the upper back and shoulder area. What I find is that cupping releases the muscle tension quickly, more so than deep tissue massage (which is great, don’t get me wrong). Cupping is also very helpful when patients have a chest infection, bad cough etc.

What happens at a treatment then? Is it uncomfortable? What about those marks?

A common presentation is where the upper back is tight and painful, probably with restricted movement in the shoulders and neck. I will usually apply some massage oil which allows me to slide the cups covering a large area. Most patients find their mobility improves straight away and continues to improve further over the next few days or so. In cases where patients have been unwell with a lung/chest related problems, the treatment will be more conservative. I would probably just leave the cups in situ for a short time.

A good practitioner will always be checking in with their patient to ensure they are comfortable. I find that patients are happy with an acceptable level of discomfort. The best example being when you have muscle tension and someone gives you a bit of a massage. It’s kind of a bit uncomfortable but feels good. I consider that ‘therapeutic discomfort’. Similarly, the next day muscles feel a bit sore but movement is better, same as after an exercise work out.

The marks produced can look a bit dramtic and for those unfamiliar with Chinese medicine, they can look a bit scary. As a rule, the darker the cupping mark, the more stagnation is present. What we see over the course of a few sessions is that the resulting marks become much less, to the point where no marks appear indicating the tissues are healthly.

Cupping is generally very safe however I would urge patients to check their practitioner has the appropriate training. There is an art to effective cupping and an appropriateness to it’s application. When and where and how much to use it comes from good training and experience.




Acupuncture, Drug and alcohol dependency, Health

Should you? Shouldn’t you? The new advice on alcohol.

The BBC headline this morning

Good or bad?
Good or bad?

So here we are, it’s that time of year when we’re encouraged to abstain and ‘detox’ from the xmas excesses.

I’m old enough to have seen this trend of conflicting health advice from ‘experts based on latest research’. Not so long ago, people were encourage to have a small glass of red wine which had been shown to help heart health. Whilst there may be some truth in this, it’s human nature to cherry pick our health advice. More becomes better and somehow drinking a few large slugs of red wine each evening is a medicinal practice. Chocolate’s good too isn’t it?

I do some work at a support centre for people with issues with alcohol. Alcoholism is the extreme end of the spectrum. In my experience, people usually know deep down when they have an alcohol problem. It constitutes an abnormal relationship with alcohol. A bit like the difference between ‘having a bit of a sweet tooth’ compared to compulsively hiding chocolate bars in your sock drawer.

So how much is too much? I’m surprised at how many people I meet who drink every day. Not huge amounts and not that they’d be noticeably drunk but it’s common for couples to share a bottle of wine most evenings. Of course that can creep up and become an extra G&T to wind down from work maybe and perhaps a bit extra at the w/e or whilst having a dinner party? A standard bottle of wine is 10 units *gasp*

Our nations drinking habits are in many ways driven by the media and marketing companies who in order to sell their product, have to make it cool. A bit of ‘health benefits’ from the experts all the better. Remember the old style ads with that handsome chap (probably in a smart woolly) chuffing on a marlboro and sipping a large scotch from a opulent crystal tumbler. These images stick with us.

My personal viewpoint regardless of what the experts say one way or the other is that alcohol should be enjoyed occasionally. It’s essentially a toxic substance. A hangover means you’ve poisoned yourself! Daily alcohol consumption will probably damage your brain, your liver, pancreas, give you oral cancer, stomach ulcers and probably lower your immunity making your more prone to colds, viruses and impeeding healing. It can also disturb your sleep patterns either by waking you up in the night for a wee or developing a dependance to get you to sleep.

Habits are hard to break though. The advice I give to people is to firstly go for quality not quantity. Try not to keep too much alcohol in the house. Switch to a wine spritzer (with spring water?), if you prefer spirits, get a measurer so you know how much you’re having or buy the smaller bottles of lower alcohol lager. Ultimately though, if you use alcohol to relax in the evening, why not experiment with herbal teas as an alternative? Camomile, limeflower, lavender and many more can produce a delightful relaxation without the toxic effects you get from alcohol. Buy a nice teapot & create your own blend of fresh herbal tea or try from the huge range on offer from companys like Pukka for example.

The bottom line is “all things in moderation”. Unfortunately that statement doesn’t make for a sensational headline, nor does it make companys rich.


Acupuncture, Charity walk, Walking routes

Manningtree to Bures along the Stour valley path (20miles)

manningtree to buresThis is part of my training for a charity walk in August. It’s a beautiful walk, perhaps not for the fainthearted but doable with plenty of snack breaks, especially on a long summer’s day. There are waymarks as it’s part of a national trail but you definitely need a proper map as it’s easy to take the wrong path (as I found out the first time I did it oops!). GPS is always helpful if you need to confirm your location but phone reception is intermittent.

In dry weather, trainers might be ok but comfortable walking boots probably best. There are a few pubs along the way where you can get food & drink if needed but some of the walk is actually quite remote. There are areas where the path is a bit overgrown, so expect a few brambles & nettles! Some areas could get very muddy if there’s been lots of rain.

Manningtree to Stratford St Mary

manningtree to capal

20150607_074308 (1)When you come out of Manningtree station, veer to the right & you’ll see a signpost taking you on to the start of the walk. Technically you’re on St Edmund’s way here for the first mile,  the two paths merge for most of the walk.

20150607_074932 (1)Turn right onto the tarmac track which follows the railway track until & go under the lovely bridge as the track starts to head towards the river.

Once on a dirt path, there’s a point where you meet a ‘T-junction’ & there’s no waymark. Go left here & the path will take you alongside one of the branches of the river.

20150607_081956 (1)The path was a bit overgrown here for a stretch but once you get to the weir, it’s easy walking now onto Flatford mill. You stay on the left side of the river & head through the little gate towards Dedham. About half a mile along the river, you need to cross over the bridge so the river is now on your left. The path takes you to Dedham bridge.

When you reach the bridge, go left (over the bridge) & the path continues alongside the river towards Stratford St Mary.

You can hear the faint sound of the A12. The path isn’t particularly well-defined but follow the river, you’re aiming for Stratford bridge, & there’s a tunnel to the right of it which takes you under the A12 & on towards Stratford St Mary.

20150621_091337After the bridge you turn right along the road & walk past the ‘The Black horse pub’. Shortly after this, you’ll see a red life bouy on your left. The path takes you over a beautiful little bridge & back out into fields where the river is to your right.


Stratford St Mary to Nayland

capal to naylandIt’s a good idea to keep a close eye on the map during this stretch of the walk. It’s easy to take a wrong path here if you’re not paying attention as you’re not following the river now. (Hehe)

You follow the path with the river to your right for about a mile until you reach a small road which takes you down to the right & over a bridge. It’s here where you start to move away from the river. Keep to your left however for about 1/3 of a mile where you’ll turn left (the waymark is hidden in the hedge) up a track which takes you to the B1068.

20150621_100438Cross over the road & walk to your left & there’s a well defined grassy track on the right which takes you gently upwards into the fields. If you look to your left, you can just about see Stoke by Nayland church on the horizon. Ultimately this is where you’re headed.

There’s a nice peaceful ‘snack stop’ when you get to top of Braddick’s hill!

It’s just over a mile from the B1068 to Hudsons lane which is a single track road. The path carrys straight over but the waymark points right along Hudsons lane, which is correct but it’s only a few paces & you need to find the path again on your left, which is on the right side of the hedge!!!

A short distance to the end of the field, you cross over another track (Londis lane) & on through trees past a farm. Just outside Stoke by Nayland, St Edmunds way & the Stour valley path diverge.

20150607_123053 (1)Follow the Stour valley path to the left through the field. There are two options here, either go up the field to eventually meet the B1068 or there’s a gate at the bottom of the field which takes you on to Scotland st where you turn left & it takes you to the crossroads & The Angel Inn. (I would say that although I popped in here & bought a bottle of appletiser which was such a treat on a very hot day, The Angel Inn is more of a fine dining establishment than a walkers pub!)

20150607_123328 (1)The path continues on the left side of the Angel Inn around the bend to Stoke by Nayland church. It takes you through the churchyard & on to a small road where you turn right. A very short distance & you’ll see a waymark to your left which takes you back into the fields.

You wind through beautiful wooded areas eventually onto a single track road. As the road starts to turn to the left look out for the path on your right. (Again, it’s easy to miss!)

20150621_1229021/4 of a mile on, look out for some sweet little steps in the hedge leading to a stile which takes 20150621_122458you into a field. Here you need to go diagonally up across the field which will take you to another gate into the next field. Straight across again to the hedge which you follow down through another wooden gate to the bottom of the valley.

There’s an iron gate at the bottom which looks like the most obvious path but you’ll find the waymark is to the right of this, hidden in the hedge! Once you get on to this, the route down into Nayland is easy.

There’s another nice pub here which has picnic tables by the river.

20150621_125958As you come out of Nayland, you cross over a largish bridge. On your right are some steep steps down to the river edge. It’s lovely now to be back beside the river. As you head up river you 20150621_130335pass a spectacular weir. There are swans on the river & sheep ion the field. Sheer bliss!

All too soon however you find yourself colliding with the A134. You have to cross the road & head towards Naggs corner. If you turn left here, you’ll see the waymarks taking you to the final stretch of the walk.

Nayland to Bures

nayland to buresThe last stretch of the walk is more remote & peaceful. It undulates through farmland & wooded areas. The first mile or so after the A134 is easy to navigate. Once you reach a small road, look out for the track through Malting farm.

As you reach the bottom of the valley, there’s a stile (sigh…from here on there’s lots of stiles & your legs start to feel a little tired). You turn to the right. When you see a large pond, head towards it but the path is actually on the left hand side of the hedge. There are waymarks there but they’re tucked away. Continue on & you’ll hit the tarmac track, (Garnons chase) turn left which takes you into Wormingford.

20150621_151858Once in Wormingford, the path actually continues through the church (it’s not obvious) but you’ll see the waymark quite quickly which takes you through the trees. It’s now only a couple of miles to Bures.

20150621_160218The river is on your right now until you reach the most beautiful bridge. There’s some picturesque cottages with a sign on the wall saying: “footpath to Bures”!



Acupuncture, Acupuncture awareness week, BAcC, Stress

Burnt out Brits struggle with stress

We will always encounter stressful events in our lives, its unavoidable. Our response is, I suppose, an evolutionary thing, e.g when our ancestors were faced with a woolly mammoth, it was an advantage to have the body flooded with adrenaline, the heart & respiration rate increase to aid a quick getaway and ensure survival. In our modern lives too, a little bit of stress can drive us forward.

What we see all too often in our busy lives, are people who live constantly in this heightened stressful state. Stress has a way of taking root and it becomes the norm. In time unpleasant symptoms begin to manefest.

What I observe, is that most people have ‘their thing’, like a weak spot in their constitution that stress is able to get the better of. For some it’s IBS type symptoms, or skin rashes like excema or psoriasis. It could be muscle tension and pain or increased/reduced appetite, headaches, cystitis…and so on.

Stress often affects sleep. It may be that people experience vivid dreams, they’re tossing and turning all night, can’t get to sleep or find themselves wide awake at 3am. And so a downhill spiral begins. Feeling exhausted in the morning, we start turning to bad habits. An energy drink, a pack of cigarettes, sugary foods, lots of coffee to keep us going.

The mind isn’t so clear and we make poor decisions or struggle to make decisions at all. We make mistakes because our minds are foggy. People can also begin to experience an odd paranoia. We can become sensitive to others comments, then ruminate for days over it, further exhausting ourselves. Many people experience uncontrolled outbursts of emotion, often anger…and disproportionately so. And so, stress has us by the throat, stifling any joy or sense of fulfillment in our lives. We feel stuck, with no way out and its a miserable place to be.

There’s no single magic acupuncture point for stress. A traditional acupuncture practitioner will question, observe the patient and formulate an appropriate point prescription based on the patient’s diagnosis. The goal being to bring the body back to balance or “to restore de facto standards” as a colleague of mine puts it.

Patients feel very different after that first treatment and often it brings home just how much their ongoing stress is affecting them. Whilst we as practitioners offer practical suggestions to manage stress better, patients will often start to make little changes themselves. It’s surprising just how much difference a calmer frame of mind and a simple good nights sleep can make.

It’s a good idea for people to recognise the signs of stress early on and do something to tackle it. Prolonged stress will have detrimental effects on our health, sometimes irreversible ones. Acupuncture is an effective, non pharmalogical treatment option.

Life is for living, it is all too short to be stuck in the living hell which is extreme stress. Acupuncture can enable you to find your ‘flow’ and cope with life’s irritations with ease and grace.

Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine, Health, Menstruation, Womens Health

Nourishing the Blood

A patient of mine recently asked if I could help her 17-year-old daughter. Probably due to medication for her epilepsy she had been having a continuous heavy menstrual bleed for about 3 years. (It is here I bite my tongue and make no comment about her consultant advising her to “just put up with it”!) So I said of course and two treatments later, the bleeding had stopped.

However, three years of heavy menstrual bleeding had taken its toll. This poor young lady was incredibly pale in the face. Examining her tongue, it was again pale with an orangey colour. She was also exhausted. It was fairly obvious that she was very anaemic or as we would diagnose in TCM, Blood deficient.

Blood deficiency represents a little more than just anaemia. It refers to the lack of available nutrients in the blood. Symptoms may include: muscle cramps, spasms, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling in the limbs, dry hair and skin, hair loss, blurred vision, floaters, tired, dry or gritty eyes, dry brittle or withered nails, infrequent, scanty or lack of periods (amenorrhea), dizziness, fainting, poor memory, tiredness and vivid dreams.

This case though, got me revisiting Blood nourishing foods. Telling a teenager they’re having Liver and onions for tea might not go down too well but the fact is that Liver is one of the best sources of iron along with shellfish, beans, nuts and seeds and good news…dark chocolate!

So I’ve been hunting for a good hassle free liver pate recipe and found this:

Not a bad idea to be mindful of the nutrients we’re getting. So why not splash out on a tray of oysters once in a while and try making some homemade liver pate.

Acupuncture, Dental anxiety, Tuina

Study Backs Acupuncture For Reducing Dental Anxiety | Dentistry news | Dental News | Cosmetic Dentistry Guide

Study Backs Acupuncture For Reducing Dental Anxiety | Dentistry news | Dental News | Cosmetic Dentistry Guide.

Having a background in Dental hygiene, I welcome little reports like this. Whilst acupuncture and Chinese medicine are a lot more than just a relaxing, feel-good treatment, it’s ability to relieve anxiety are well documented. Many people have a fear of going to the dentist. The problem is, that minor work which can be fixed easily gets put off until complex treatment is required. Many people wait until they’re in pain before visiting the dentist, which frankly is too late!

For patients very nervous of going to the dentist, an acupuncture session prior to treatment might be helpful. My advice would be to start simple. Find a dentist you like, someone who is prepared to talk you through treatment and be kind and patient. Most traditional acupuncturists would be happy to time your acupuncture treatment prior to your appointment with the dentist. We can also leave you with some ear seeds, that can help prolong the feeling of relaxation.

Dentistry has moved on considerably since the days of extracting teeth without anaesthesia and aggressive restorative work. Most Dentists are focussed on providing conservative and preventative treatment which should lead to minimal amounts of work being required.

There are also a number of other uses of acupuncture within the dental field. TMJ dysfunction/pain for example, pain following complex extractions/infections, recurrent mouth ulcers, sensitive gag reflex and trigeminal neuralgia.

Acupuncture, Acupuncture awareness week, BAcC, Chinese Medicine

Why choose a British Acupuncture Council registered acupuncturist?

BAcC_member_pos_largeBAcC…..a leading self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture in the UK

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is the UK’s largest professional body for traditional acupuncturists. Acupuncturists who are members will display this logo and/or use the letters MBAcC. When seeking out an acupuncturist, it is important to consider the level of training the practitioner has received and whether that practitioner adheres to strict standards of hygiene, safety and ethical practice.

Codes of conduct and safe practice

Committed to ensuring all patients receive the highest standard professional care

Acupuncturists who are registered with the BAcC  are bound to a code of professional conduct and safe practice. Members are required to do  first aid certification on a regular basis. During our training it is drummed into us, to needle safely, dispose of needles safely. Patients are treated with respect and are given full autonomy towards their treatment.

link to BAcC codes of conduct and safe practice

Register of members

3,600 hours of high standard training

Traditional acupuncturists registered with the BAcC undergo three years of initial training to BSc standard. This involves a foundation in Western medicine, anatomy and physiology, pathology and pharmacology. We study the Classics of Traditional Chinese medicine in it’s historical context but also how this can be applied to our modern understanding of the human body and modern disease.

There are over 300 acupuncture points. What I remember from my own training was that we underwent an extensive, (very stressful) point location exam which entailed us to give both anatomical descriptions of acupuncture points and to locate exactly the point to an examiner. In order for students to progress to the next stage of training (i.e clinical practice) we were required to achieve a pass score of 80%.

We began our clinical training as observers, then assistants, then we were allowed to progress to ‘actually treating real patients!’ Cases were discussed, treatment plans formulated and we performed our treatment under the watchful eye of our clinic supervisor.

Ongoing CPD (Continuing professional development)

A good practitioner never stops learning. BAcC registered acupuncturists are required to complete ongoing CPD.

Acupuncture is an extremely safe treatment however it is possible to make a patient feel very unwell by administering the incorrect treatment without first a proper diagnosis. At best, the treatment might simply be ineffective but in some circumstances could potentially be dangerous. There are also treatment techniques, particularly in muscular-skeletal treatment, that require experience. Some of the techniques I use now, I have worked up to over time as my experience has grown.

In my opinion, Acupuncture should only be administered by a fully qualified practitioner. Certainly, if someone was sticking needles in me, better be properly trained to do so! I find it upsetting to hear people say “they have had acupuncture, but it didn’t work.” I’ve learned now to inquire, “who administered the treatment?” then I find out they had treatment with their GP. I’ve also encountered patients who have had bad experiences with their GP ‘doing a bit of acupuncture’. One lady told me, that it was very painful and left her with big bruises, quite a contrast to the the treatment she received from me. Unfortunately GP’s expect to stick one needle in their patients and get miracle results. Acupuncture just doesn’t work like that, there is so much more to it than that.

With a  BAcC registered practitioner, acupuncture is safe and it works. Accept no less.

Acupuncture, Acupuncture awareness week, Chinese Medicine, Drug and alcohol dependency

Acupuncture for addiction

auricular1One of the areas where acupuncture, specifically ear (auricular) acupuncture, has been used successfully for many years is in drug and alcohol services. Firstly I would say, it makes sense to find non-pharmocological ways of treating drug and alcohol dependency. For a lot of addicts and alcoholics, coming off drugs and alcohol is in many ways the straightforward part. The difficulty is staying clean, coming to terms with the feelings of guilt (towards friends and family that have been affected) and generally rebuilding their lives.

A recent study published in the Journal of Psychiatric And Mental Health Nursing found ear acupuncture within drug and alcohol services to be both effective and extremely cost-effective. In my experience, the sessions are run in a group setting. Five needles are placed in each ear (see photo) which is known as the NADA protocol. The clients are left to relax usually with some suitable relaxing music in the background.

One of the biggest problems for clients is establishing natural sleep patterns. To be able to use a natural therapy such as acupuncture is far preferable to sleeping pills particularly for someone who has addiction problems. Clients often find that after one or two sessions of acupuncture they are able to sleep at least for a few nights following the treatment. This enables clients to then find a normal routine and are in a much better place to make good decisions…i.e stay off drugs/alcohol and develop positive coping mechanisms.

Many of the clients I meet who’ve had addiction problems are often very driven people….they don’t know when to stop and demonstrate extreme behaviors. The acupuncture treatment allows clients to find balance…I call it a “positive zero”, not too manic/hyper but not too lethargic. In Chinese medicine we would simply say..”freeing the flow of qi”.

There is a lot of help out there for addicts and alcoholics. It affects people from all walks of life. If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction problem then GET HELP! Your GP can refer you to local services or there are many projects that will accept self-referral. There is no judgement….only help!