Can acupuncture really be the answer to wellness?
In the next of her fortnightly columns, our wellness warrior Hannah shares her experience under the needles.
By Hannah Bullimore
Needles. No one’s a fan, are they?
They’re what we all dread as kids and the worry even now when we go to the dentist.
Yet, needles could just be the answer to a range of health and wellness worries – from chronic pain to fatigue and even fertility.
I was recently welcomed to the Heaton Acupuncture Clinic by the lovely Irena Lenc, who is both an acupuncturist and a fountain of knowledge on all things wellbeing. Irena showed me round the clinic with its spacious rooms and comfortable beds.
I was nervous. I had been recommended acupuncture by doctors in the past for my arthritis but had never tried it. Partly because of the thought of needles and partly because it’s such an unknown.
How do tiny needles make a difference?
That’s what I was about to find out…
WHAT IS ACUPUNCTURE?
Irena explained that it’s difficult to narrow what acupuncture is down to a simple explanation because it’s so complex and there are many different branches of the treatment.
‘Acupuncture is a healing technique that involves insertion of ultra-fine needles at specific points on the body,’ she told me. ‘The needles are sterile and single-use and are finer than human hair.
‘Traditional acupuncture theory believes that these points are on pathways called meridians and that they re-establish the free flow of the body’s life energy. In Western scientific terms, acupuncture has been found to work by stimulating the production of natural pain-killing and healing chemicals.’
I was curious to understand what benefits acupuncture could have. Irena explained that in the West, we often see medicine and treatments as being for specific ailments or conditions, however acupuncture is more diverse.
‘Acupuncture has developed to become a full healthcare system able to address any health condition,’ Irena said. ‘Research shows that about 90% of the population has a good response to acupuncture and I am yet to meet a person who would not benefit from it.
‘Just to put it into perspective, my youngest patient was a one-year-old and suffered from eczema. My oldest patient was an 87-year-old with severe shoulder and arm pain.’
CAN ACUPUNCTURE BE BENEFICIAL TO ANTI-AGING?
As well as benefits for pain and fatigue, I’m sure we would all like some help to feel and look as youthful as possible for as long as possible.
I’ve seen people online having acupuncture on their faces and was keen to know about its anti-aging benefits.
‘Facial Enhancement Acupuncture works in several ways,’ Irena explained. ‘Firstly, facial points are used to activate specific muscles of the face and neck to lift, improve muscle tone and increase circulation of blood and lymph. Small needles are inserted into frown lines and wrinkles, causing stimulation so the body produces collagen to gently fill out the line.
‘Finally, regular acupuncture points are used to promote general health and reduce stress to give that well rested, bright-eyed glow.
‘I am yet to expand my offer to include this treatment, but I can wholeheartedly recommend Jo Curly for those living in and around Newcastle, and Sheenette Milns for those around Alnwick and Morpeth.’
CAN ACUPUNCTURE HELP FERTILITY?
Fertility feels like one of the final taboos in society.
Many of us are choosing to start our families later, yet there’s still a lack of understanding around fertility.
Irena explained that Western perspective is very different to that of Eastern medicine, where a woman in her 30s is not viewed as a ‘geriatric mother’. Issues with fertility are instead seen as imbalances and can be worked on.
For those who are struggling with fertility, acupuncture could be a great option. Irena explained that she has had great success with patients through a range of acupuncture treatments.
ACUPUNCTURE: THE TREATMENT
I was attending the appointment hoping for help with my own experience of chronic pain and fatigue. I have a range of autoimmune conditions and have tried many remedies, medications and self-care practices in the past.
Irena could tell that I was nervous but put me at ease. I lay down on the bed and Irena used cushions to ensure I was comfortable and explained this was particularly helpful for people with joint pain. Once I was lying down, Irena explained that there were different approaches she could take with my medical history and that I would feel the most benefit from regular treatment.
She began by placing needles into my legs. The needles felt like tiny little scratches but, once they were in, I wasn’t aware of them. I felt quite conscious of the needles throughout, as I was scared to knock them, but Irena reassured me I wouldn’t.
I then had needles placed into my hands. This was the tricky part of the treatment. Irena explained that this is a sensitive place to put needles, as it’s so close to the bone, but that it would be beneficial. We managed four out of the five needles before I decided to leave the fifth until my next treatment.
Finally, I had told Irena about the pain I get in my sternum which is often very painful and feels like my shoulders are being pulled forwards. She placed a needle in the centre of my sternum, which wasn’t at all painful.
I was then covered in a blanket and was left to rest with the needles in place for 20 minutes.
I’m not sure what was happening in those 20 minutes, but I do know that I felt very, very relaxed. I felt warmth at the various points where the needles had been placed and I think I probably dozed off.
Once the needles were removed, I felt a slight tingling – particularly in my hand and sternum. Other than that, I felt as though I had just had a really good nap.
Irena reminded me that I would feel the most benefit from regular treatment and this was consistent with what my rheumatologist had told me when they had suggested I try acupuncture for my joint pain. I was curious to see if I would feel any difference over the coming days.
ACUPUNCTURE: AFTER THE TREATMENT
The main difference I noticed was in my sternum. I have pretty constant discomfort here and it usually feels like I’m wearing a heavy backpack. When I twist it often cracks audibly (you can hear it across the room) and I regularly take prescribed pain killers for it.
In the days following my treatment, I felt a new openness across my chest. It was like the backpack had been lifted. I felt lighter and wasn’t reaching for my painkillers.
I didn’t feel a difference from the other needles, but I know that this could be because it was my first treatment and that I may need more exposure to acupuncture to fully experience its benefits.
I would definitely recommend Irena if you’re nervous and have been meaning to try acupuncture for a while. She’s calm, knowledgeable and I felt she read my pain tolerance and anxiety very well to administer the treatment in a way that was fully personalised for me.