Back pain can affect anyone at any age and is the UK’s leading cause of disability and work-related sickness absence. Most cases of lower back pain are not caused by serious damage or disease, but by muscle strains or sprains, a pinched or irritated nerve, or minor injuries. It can also occur in pregnancy, or because of stress, viral infection or kidney infection.
Research has shown that acupuncture for low back pain is significantly better than no treatment at all and at least as good, if not better than, standard medical care. It can relieve pain by:
Stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues to alter the processing of pain in the brain and spinal cord (Pomeranz 1987, Zhao 2008)
Promoting the release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors to reduce inflammation (Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007, Zijlstra 2003)
Easing muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation (Komori 2009), which aids dispersal of swelling and bruising
Being added to conventional treatments such as rehabilitation exercise to improve the outcome (Yuan 2008; Ammendolia 2008)
For further details regarding research on acupuncture and back pain, see the fact sheet for back pain on the British Acupuncture Council Website.
"I’ve been suffering from low back pain for some time and didn’t want to continue taking painkillers. Wish I had known about acupuncture before. I got some immediate relief from the first session and now after 6 treatments, I can say I am more or less pain-free.
Thank you Ashdon Acupuncture!"
This condition arises from either nerve root impingement and/or inflammation, and causes pain and possibly numbness in the areas that are served by the affected nerve roots. Pain can be experienced in the back or side of the leg, right down to the foot or toes. Accompanying or initial low back pain is often a factor.
There is evidence to suggest that acupuncture may provide pain relief for this condition in much the same way as the mechanisms described above for low back pain, and in addition by causing a transient change in sciatic nerve blood flow. (Inoue 2008)
For further information regarding acupuncture research and sciatica, see the British Acupuncture Council website factsheets.
Osteoarthritis involves damage to the articular cartilage and other structures in and around joints. It is a commonly presenting condition for acupuncturists both in China and the UK and the joints most frequently affected are the knee and hip.
There have been many randomized controlled trials of acupuncture for osteoarthritis and the results of these can be found on the fact sheet pages of the British Acupuncture Council website. In summary, together with expert consensus guidelines of the Osteoarthritis Research Society International, acupuncture has been recognized as having clinically relevant benefits and as such is recommended as a treatment option for osteoarthritis.
Acupuncture has been used to treat arthritis for many years and in China has been the first choice to help with arthritic pain, swelling and stiffness.
In 2007, a systemic review analyzed the results from 13 trials representing 1,334 patients using acupuncture for arthritis of the knee. It was found that:
“Acupuncture is significantly superior to sham acupuncture and to no additional intervention in improving pain and function in patients with chronic knee pain” (White et al 2007)
Neck pain is extremely common, one of the three most frequently reported complaints of the musculoskeletal system. Symptoms can include pain radiating to the arms or head and, while usually a benign and self-limited condition, it can cause significant disruption to normal routines.
In September 2012, the largest study of acupuncture for chronic pain (17,922 patients) was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study concluded that:
“Acupuncture is better than usual care and better than sham acupuncture for the treatment of back and neck pain, osteoarthritis and chronic headaches”
"I haven’t felt so well for years! So much better now, thank you! I wasn’t sleeping, hardly at all, felt really down and had constant aching in my neck and shoulders. Now, all that has gone. I hardly have any pain and feel better than I have for ages! I sleep better too.
I actually enjoyed my acupuncture treatments, very relaxing and the neck and shoulder exercises you gave me are really helpful. It’s a lovely clinic, I felt as though I could really relax."
Sports and Painful injuries
Sports injuries are common and can prevent you being as active as you would like. Acupuncture has been proven to reduce pain and inflammation and accelerate repair, and is used by top athletes such as Rebecca Adlington, who won four medals for Britain at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
Injuries can be caused by trauma from a sudden impact or awkward movement, or can develop over time often due to the overuse of the same joints or muscle groups.
The aims of treatment are to relieve pain, control inflammation and accelerate repair. We use massage, acupuncture and sometimes heat. The effect of acupuncture tends to be cumulative so you should notice that the intensity of pain gradually begins to ease, usually over a period of days and weeks. As this happens, treatment is slowly reduced. It is important to continue any remedial exercises you are given, and eventually you should be able to better manage and prevent re-injury yourself.
"Following an injury playing tennis, I had constant pain and stiffness in my left knee that wasn’t going away. A friend suggested I try acupuncture, and four treatments later, I’m pleased to report that my knee is much better. I liked the massage and heat treatment and I can honestly say that having acupuncture wasn’t unpleasant at all. I’d definitely recommend your clinic."
Neurological disorders such as migraines and headaches
In 2015, The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended that healthcare professionals should consider offering patients a course of up to 10 sessions of acupuncture for the prophylactic treatment of chronic tension-type headaches.
There have been a large number of controlled trials of acupuncture for migraine headaches and the results are quite consistent: acupuncture is significantly better than no treatment or basic care for managing migraine, and appears to be at least as effective as prophylactic drug therapy with few contra-indications or unpleasant side effects.
Acupuncture can help in the treatment of migraine in a number of ways including:
Providing pain relief by stimulating nerves located in muscles and other tissues (Zhao 2008, Zijlstra 2003, Pomeranz, 1987)
Reducing inflammation (Kim 2008, Kavoussi 2007, Zijstra) Affecting serotonin levels in the brain that may be linked to the initiation of migraines (Zhong 2007)
Moderating extra-cranial and intra-cranial blood flow (Park 2009)
“I was getting frequent migraines every two to three weeks, often started by stressful situations. I felt an oppressive pressure like piercing pain and was often sick. After only 3 treatments I felt much better and was coping better with stress at work.”
The symptoms of digestive problems can be really miserable and include nausea and heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), constipation and diarrhoea. Acupuncture can help relieve these symptoms.
IBS: The cause of this condition is unclear, but it appears that sensory nerves in the bowel are hypersensitive and may overreact when the bowel wall stretches. Symptoms include pain and cramping, flatulence, sudden bouts of diarrhoea and/or constipation. Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may benefit IBS sufferers by:
Providing pain relief (Pomeranz 1987)
Regulating the motility of the digestive tract (Yin, Chen 2008)
Raising the sensory threshold of the gut (Xu 2009, Ma 2009), Tian (2008), Tian (2006), Xing (2004)
Reducing anxiety and depression (Samuels 2008). The distress of IBS symptoms can lead to a vicious cycle of anxiety-pain-anxiety, while the embarrassing nature of the condition can cause feelings of depression. Acupuncture can alter the brain’s mood chemistry and increase production of serotonin and endorphins (Han 2004), helping combat these negative affective states.
Results from a recent study on the benefits of electro-acupuncture in regulating vasoactive intestinal peptide for suffers of IBS are exciting.
You can check the research factsheets at (British Acupuncture Council website link). For further information on IBS and other digestive problems, or please telephone or email us to discuss whether acupuncture could help you.
Acupuncture can be safely combined with other treatment you might be receiving for this condition. We will also consider whether there may be dietary or lifestyle changes that could help to alleviate your symptoms.
“I suffered with IBS for years. The spasms were really disabling and seemed to be made worse by stress and eating the wrong things. There were times at work when I had to go and lie down to relieve the pain and terrible bloating. When I started having acupuncture the pain became less frequent and as treatment continued I realized I had stopped being constantly on alert for the next bout of pain. I wish I had known about acupuncture before.”
Contemporary life is full of fantastic opportunities but it can also present challenging demands such as juggling family life with work and keeping up in a fast-paced and competitive working world, with the pressure of earning enough money and having adequate time to exercise and spend time doing the things we enjoy. All of this can have an impact on health.
We are especially keen to support women with the niggling and sometimes disabling common health problems they can face at all ages. You can look at the British Acupuncture website factsheets for a number of conditions such as dysmenorrhea (painful periods), endometriosis, PCOS, premenstrual syndrome, cystitis and hot flushes.
Menopause is also a time when various health problems can arise such as hot flushes, sleep disturbance, fatigue, mood swings, forgetfulness and loss of libido. Although the average duration of these symptoms is around 4 years, it is disturbing that in around 10% of women they can last longer than 12 years. (Polity 2008)
We much prefer the traditional Chinese concept of menopause as a “second spring”, conveying the idea that this is a time for a new lease of life. By dispensing with a monthly cycle, which may have
become draining and problematic, we can welcome better health and more energy.
However, although this is a vast improvement on the situation faced by women in the past, who by 40 years old were exhausted by multiple pregnancies, it does not always feel that we can be peaceful and serene! The reality of life for many is that we will increasingly confront the idea of working for longer, supporting elderly parents who are living longer and even our grown-up children who, having left home, may need continual financial and emotional support.
Many women are using acupuncture to increase their chances of getting pregnant, either by natural conception or by assisted reproduction therapy (IVF, ICSI and IUI). Research has established plausible mechanisms to explain how acupuncture might be of benefit by helping to regulate fertility hormones, increasing blood flow to the ovaries and uterus and improving the thickness of the endometrial lining to increase the chances of embryo implantation.
The key goal of acupuncture at this time is to regulate the menstrual cycle if necessary, and to enhance, strengthen and improve health to increase the chance of conception.
For those women undergoing IVF, we offer supportive and calming treatment, designed to work alongside the different stages of the process and, importantly, to help control the high stress levels that can be experienced during this time.
"We want to thank you for your support through our fertility journey. After suffering two miscarriages, we are now over the moon to have a baby son, born last month! The acupuncture helped me to cope with what was a really stressful and anxious time. I am quite sure acupuncture made a positive difference. I always felt you listened to my concerns and felt calmer after acupuncture sessions. Thank you again for all your invaluable support."
Acupuncture in Pregnancy
Some pregnant women have acupuncture throughout pregnancy for morning sickness, heartburn, back pain or anxiety. If labour runs past the due date, acupuncture can be used to encourage labour to start.
On the British Acupuncture Council’s website, the factsheet on obstetrics concludes that acupuncture is safe in pregnancy and from the research evidence to date may:
Help back pain during pregnancy
Reduce the pain of labour
Encourage the start of labour
Reduce symptoms of nausea, vomiting and heartburn
Turn a breech presentation