How I discovered the finer points of acupuncture
By Anton Michael Rocke
November 1st, 2008
With growing clinical evidence of its effectiveness in treating everything from post-operative pain and nausea to backache, acupuncture has gained acceptance in mainstream medicine.
But to those who have never tried it, the treatment, in which the skin is pricked with needles at key points of the body, may still seem strange and mysterious. According to acupuncture theory, points lie along meridians of the body – or channels – through which chi, a vital energy, is said to flow.
Say chi: Acupuncture is said to channel an energy force through vital points in the body. Although there is no physical basis for this concept in Western medical terms, over thousands of years (and patients) Chinese doctors have discovered certain effects when a needle is inserted into these points.
And the British Medical Association, it seems, agrees. In 2000 it approved acupuncture for conditions that included back and dental pain – and it is routinely offered on the NHS.
I first visited a Chinese doctor ten years ago. I was 25, a yoga teacher, and despite countless tests, dermatologists could find no cause for the eczema I had suffered for eight years on my face, back, chest and legs.
Anton Michael Rocke
was so amazed by acupuncture that he took up the study of Chinese medicine. I hoped acupuncture would provide what I was looking for. But needles scared me and I hated blood tests. After my first session I could barely believe it. I’d hardly felt a thing. I walked out with seven bags of ‘herbs’, which I was to brew up like tea and drink twice a day. The acupuncture cost £35 and the herbs, to last a week, were a further £30.
After six weeks my eczema began to clear up. I visited a doctor for acupuncture once a month for two years and the treatment ended when I decided my condition was under control.
It was this incredible experience that led me to train as a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) at the University of Westminster in London. I worked as an acupuncturist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, treating HIV and AIDS patients, before moving into private practice.
Life at the sharp end
Q: What does ‘acupuncture’ mean?
A: It comes from the Latin acus, meaning ‘needle’, and pungere, to ‘prick’. The technique is more than 2,000 years old, although there is evidence of similar practices from the early Bronze Age, around 3,000 BC.
Q: How does it work?
A: Some studies suggest that the pain-killing action is associated with the release of natural endorphins, and others that inserting needles into certain points ‘switches off’ electrical nerve pathways that make the brain recognise pain. Despite more than 10,000 published papers there is no conclusive answer.
Q: What does acupuncture treat?
A: It can be effective in the treatment of chronic lower back pain, neck pain, post-operative nausea and vomiting, headaches, and other nerve pain relief. Combining acupuncture with conventional infertility treatments such as IVF greatly improves the success rates. In China, it is used to treat skin conditions, digestive or sleeping problems, depression and stress.
Q: Does it hurt?
A: No. The needles are much finer than those used to draw blood. A dull ache or heaviness around the needle is a normal sensation to expect. It should never feel sharp.
Q: What are the needles made of?
A: Traditional needles were made of bone, stone, or metal. Modern disposable ones are made of stainless steel with a smooth rounded end.