Allah’s creation is perfect and, throughout the world, different cultures have evolved different systems for describing that perfection. When studying Chinese medicine, I loved its comprehensive description of the perfection that surrounds us.
Traditional Chinese medicine
The theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the concept of energy, or Qi, which permeates creation, flowing through the tissues of the body and forming the matrix in which our organs and systems (neurological, immune, hormonal etc.) function. Disease manifests as disorder in this energy field and health can be restored through correction of these imbalances.
Stimulation for healing
Acupuncture seeks to correct disorders in our energy field through the stimulation of specific points using techniques including needles, lasers, electricity, pressure and magnets. Appropriate stimulation of these points is considered to help rebalance the matrix and restore harmonious flow of Qi around the body.
We tend to think of acupuncture as a uniquely Chinese technique, but there is evidence that the knowledge of similar practices in different parts of the world.
Otzi, the iceman found in the Austrian Alps, for example, had tattoos on acupuncture points on his body, while ancient Ayuverdic medicine also makes references to it. However, nowhere else in the world has it achieved the same level of sophistication.
Since being accepted as a mainstay of medicine in China over 2000 years ago, alongside Herbal Medicine, Massage (Tui Na in Chinese) and Qi Gong (literally ‘energy exercises’), acupuncture has evolved to encompass a broad and diverse range of styles and approaches to manipulating the energy flows in our bodies. Today the main styles practised in the UK are:
• TCM (Eight Principle) acupuncture – the standardised form developed in China post-1949;
• Five Element acupuncture which emphasises treatment according to personality types;
• Japanese acupuncture with its use of shallow, sub-cutaneous needle insertion and emphasis on diagnosis through palpation.
Additional skills used by acupuncturists include:
• cupping (creating a vacuum over the skin);
• moxibustion (application of heat to acupuncture points); and
• ear acupuncture (a modern development pioneered in France that has since been taken up worldwide and is excellent for substance abuse).
It is worth pointing out that, although practised in China, most acupuncturists in the UK do not use blood letting in conjunction with cupping as recommended by the Prophet (SAW).
Traditionally, acupuncture has been used mainly for musculo-skeletal and neurological disorders (eg, frozen shoulder, back pain, headaches), although today it is also used in China for a wide range of other conditions including: asthma, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and menstrual irregularity. Herbal medicine is generally preferred for more chronic and recalcitrant conditions including skin, cardiovascular and auto-immune conditions.
When arriving at a diagnosis of the underlying imbalance, an acupuncture practitioner will use information derived from taking the patient’s pulse and looking at their tongue, as well as taking a full case history. Treatment will then involve the insertion of a number of fine, sterile, single-use, surgical stainless steel needles (typically 6-12 per session) into selected acupuncture points. Points can be almost anywhere on the body depending on the underlying condition. For instance, for migraine headaches, they may include points on the head for local effect as well as points on the lower leg and feet for systemic effect. Alternatively, points on the back may be selected. After insertion, which should be pain free, the practitioner will usually manipulate the needle until a dull aching sensation is felt. This is called deqi, ‘arrival of the Qi’. Withdrawal of the needles will usually leave no mark as the natural elasticity of the skin closes the point again without bleeding or bruising, leaving the patient with a general feeling of relaxation and well-being.
While different conditions require different lengths of treatment, a standard course comprises 6 treatments, with some conditions requiring more than one course. In most cases, treatments will be weekly, although in acute cases bi-weekly treatments can be beneficial.
As with all complementary therapies, it is important to find a properly qualified practitioner. The British Acupuncture Council is the principal regulatory body for non-medical acupuncture in the UK and ensures that all members meet minimum standards as well as adhere to a strict code of ethics and professional standards.
For further information:
www.acupuncture.org.uk – website of the British Acupuncture Council.
www.aacp.uk.com – website of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists.
www.acupuncture.com – U.S. site with a wealth of information about Chinese medicine in general.
The Web That Has No Weaver, Ted Kaptchuk – still the best introduction for the layperson into the philosophy of Chinese medicine.
Acupuncture Handbook: How Acupuncture Works & How it Can Help You, Angela Hicks.
Abdul Karim Powell graduated in biochemistry from the University of Birmingham in 1983. He then went on to study Chinese in Taiwan, acupuncture at the London School of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese herbal medicine at the London Academy of Oriental Medicine, Qi Gong at the Shao Ai Chi Gung Centre, Taipei and underwent clinical training in Shanghai. He is a visiting lecturer and clinical supervisor in Chinese medicine at the University of Westminster and has also taught in Ireland, South Africa, Malaysia, Sweden, Italy and Portugal.