What is acupuncture and does it work?

Victory’s newest team member, consultant osteopath Jonathan Grice, is a keen advocate of acupuncture. Here he explains what acupuncture is all about – how he first came to discover it when it was used on him, and how he uses it in his own practice.

As part of my journey to become a better practitioner, I have been interested in acupuncture since before I became an osteopath. Acupuncture presented me with a problem, however – how do I square a science-based evidence informed perspective with a traditional practice still steeped in a pre-scientific understanding of human physiology?

When I was about 27, I became unwell. I couldn’t exercise; I was tired all the time; I had become grumpy and my asthma had become worse. I knew something was wrong so I went to my GP, whom I like and respected, and he did a full blood panel, none of which showed any problem apart for anti-bodies for Epstein-Barr virus showing that I had at some time in my past suffered from glandular fever. Pretty unremarkable. My GP offered me antidepressants as he thought I was run down.

It was a reasonable clinical call – give some antidepressants and see if these nebulous set of symptoms improve. However, I was pretty familiar with depression (that’s another story) and this didn’t feel like depression. I thanked him and declined.

The next time I saw my chiropractor I asked him if he knew a good alternative practitioner (I believe I used the word witch doctor). Yes, he said. People rave about John X across the road. John was a Chinese orthopaedic surgeon who couldn’t register as a doctor in New Zealand so had turned to acupuncture to make a living.

So I went to see John. He looked at me, took my pulse at both wrists, looked at my tongue, and wrote some notes in Chinese. Yes, he declared, he could help.

So what’s wrong with me? I asked.

Don’t worry. I’ll stick needles in and you’ll get better, he said.

No, I said. Before we get to the needles I want to know what’s wrong with me.

But, it won’t mean anything to you, you’re a Westerner, said John.

Try me, I said.

OK, you have an excess of damp and phlegm, said John.

What does that mean? I asked.

Nothing. You’re a Westerner, it won’t mean anything to you at all, he said.

There was a small pause.

I can tell you what your symptoms are, he said in an effort to break the impasse.

Rightoh, I said thinking this will be a horoscope in its vagueness and generality.

John proceeded to describe my daily life pattern in exquisite detail. You sleep for more than 10 hours a night. You wake up feeling more tired than when you went to bed. You feel angry after eating. You can’t exercise for more than 10 minutes without wanting to give up. You are peeing often and a little at a time and it is very pale in colour. Your joints ache when you rest…on and on he went.

Ok, I said. What do we do?

Put needles in, he said.

I had 2 sessions. The morning after the second session I woke up before the alarm went off for the first time in 6 months. My health immediately changed and I’ve never felt like that again.

Don’t ask me what was wrong with me or how it worked, it still defies my understanding. I don’t do that sort of acupuncture. I don’t use the humours or the elements to categorise patient diagnosis. I use standard medical diagnosis. I use acupuncture mostly for pain because of the strong evidence base for its efficacy I use Western Medical Acupuncture because I understand Western medical physiology. However, the complex and sophisticated way acupuncture modulates the central nervous system means that there is strong evidence for its use for nausea, over-active bladder and many other not-directly-musculoskeletal-pain dysfunctions.

Acupuncture doesn’t work for everyone; there is a great deal of variability in response to acupuncture. Acupuncture works less strongly as a patient ages requiring more stimulation. Acupuncture is not a substitute for a good diagnosis. Many patients are needle shy and there’s no point to using acupuncture if it’s going to cause someone psychological distress.

I have a partner who suffered from recurrent neck-related migraine. She hates spinal manipulation so I have had to use alternatives for her – it’s made me a gentler and better osteopath. However, for her acupuncture is phenomenally effective. Since I started needling her, she hasn’t had a single day off work with a migraine and the number of episodes has dramatically fallen.

I use acupuncture and electro-acupuncture as part of a suite of therapies and techniques to augment and reinforce the normalisation of function and interrupt pain-cycles. I’m glad I’ve done the training and have it available to me when I treat.

To experience Jonathan’s approach (and his needles!) first-hand, you can now book assessment appointments with him at our Sun Street clinic. To book, either fill in the form below or give us a call on 0207 175 0150. And if you book an assessment with Jonathan before the end of May 2019, then we’ll give you 50% off the price of the first session.