The basic concept of this traditional Chinese technique has inspired, as well as been developed into, new forms.
IT would seem counter-intuitive that the use of needles on your body would be able to relieve pain, but such usage forms the basis of acupuncture.
This technique has been utilised for therapy in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, with its acceptance and practice spreading outside East Asian communities in modern times.
While most people would be familiar with the dominant Chinese version of acupuncture (see sidebar if you are not), other forms of this technique have also evolved.
Developed by the blind
Oran Kivity originally started out studying and practising Chinese acupuncture in his native England.
Ten years into his career, he met a Japanese acupuncturist in Europe, and started learning how the Japanese practise this technique.
Ever since then, he has been practising the Japanese version of acupuncture, which he feels is more in tune with his own personal beliefs and philosophy.
According to Kivity, who currently runs his own practice in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, Japanese acupuncture has the same roots as Chinese acupuncture.
He says: “Around the sixth century, there was an influx of Chinese technology to Japan, and that’s when acupuncture came to Japan.
“But, as with all things when separated geographically and through time, it developed differently.”
He explains that around the 16th century, blind people were encouraged to take up acupuncture as a career.
Due to their disability, they naturally put more emphasis on touch, which influenced their practice of the technique.
So, for example, as Kivity shares, abdominal palpation is an important part of Japanese acupuncture, whereas it is not practised in Chinese acupuncture, which uses methods like looking at the tongue instead.
Another big difference, he says, is a technique called touch needling, which is a main feature of Japanese acupuncture.
“Touch needling is a technique developed by the blind acupuncturists, which involves holding the needles on the skin without entering it. It has very profound and quick results,” he explains.
Japanese acupuncture also emphasises the concept of “root-and-branch”, which means that both the “root” – the actual cause of the problem, and the “branch” – the symptoms, which are what the client is most likely seeking help for, are both treated at the same time.
Kivity says that this differs from Chinese acupuncture, where there is less emphasis on this concept, and Western acupuncture, which focuses solely on symptom control.
He adds: “We always do ‘root’ therapy with touch needling; for the ‘branch’, we treat using any number of ways, for example, needling, moxibustion, the use of different metals, blood-letting, warm bamboo.”
Because the practitioner can only hold one needle at a time in touch needling, it allows them to take the pulse of the client in between each placement of the needle, thus permitting them to monitor the client’s condition and response to the treatment, and adjust it accordingly.
“People usually will feel relaxed, or that something has changed, within the first 10 minutes of the treatment, and very relaxed by the end of the session,” Kivity says.
Among the conditions he treats are back pain, anxiety, infertility, pregnancy-related conditions, as well as childhood ailments like asthma, colic, constipation, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder.
However, he strongly emphasises that, “Acupuncture doesn’t cure anything; it just triggers the body to heal itself.”
No needles involved
Like Japanese and Chinese acupuncture, the German pain management technology called Biological Cell Regulation (BCR) Therapy also focuses on the body’s acupuncture points and meridians.
However, instead of using needles to stimulate the points, the technology utilises microcurrents, or electricity measured in microamperes.
Invented by Bernd Walitschek, the technology combines the concepts of qi – the vital lifeforce or energy that traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy believes circulates within our bodies and affects its functions, and microcurrent electrical neuromuscular stimulation (MENS), which works on the basis of the body’s own electrical properties.
The idea, which is common in traditional Chinese acupuncture, is that pain always correlates to a disruption in a person’s qi.
In BCR Therapy, the machine utilising the patented technology called the Clinic-Master, delivers as closely matched a current as possible to the client’s own qi, to help replace the missing energy.
This helps to stimulate the injured cells to regenerate at a faster rate, and thus, help heal the source of pain.
In fact, the technology was originally developed for professional athletes, to help provide quicker pain relief and speed up their recovery time from injuries.
According to practitioner Susie Toh, the technology accomplishes this by working on the cellular level to increase adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – the main energy source in our cells – by up to 500%; the intracellular transport process up to 40%, which helps with waste and toxin removal from the cell; and cell metabolism and protein synthesis up to 70%.
The machine is preloaded with the treatment specifications for 60 medical conditions, and a manual is provided with the appropriate acupuncture points and meridians to treat for each condition.
Says Toh: “We see a lot of (people with) pain, knee conditions, cervical spondylitis or slipped discs. A lot of these are cases that the doctors themselves have already given up on.”
She herself originally bought the machine to treat her husband, who suffered from severe neuropathic pain after a stroke in 2010. His pain threshold was so low that even the touch of tissue paper hurt.
Toh shares that her husband’s pain decreased significantly after the first treatment, and has now decreased by about 70-80%.
The treatment was so successful that she was soon encouraged to take up the local license for distributing the technology, and now runs her own treatment centre in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur.
Based on her experience treating others with the technology for the past two years, Toh says: “On the first treatment, pain can be reduced by up to 80%.”
She adds: “The number of sessions needed depends on the client – some need as many as 10, but some only need as little as two.”
The machine produces pulses of microcurrent in six-minute cycles, and runs a diagnostic after each cycle to help regulate the amount of electricity that is needed.
In addition to relieving pain and promoting self-healing, the machine is also used for aesthetic purposes, like softening scars, reducing wrinkles and tightening up loose skin.
While acupuncture has been used in East Asia for several centuries, it was only over the last few decades that it has gained traction as a pain management technique in Western countries.
Pain management consultant and anaesthetist Dr Maya Nagaratnam, who recently returned to Malaysia after graduating and practising in the UK, currently heads the pain centre in a private medical centre in Kuala Lumpur that provides Western medical acupuncture.
“Our understanding of pain pathways has really improved over the last few decades,” she says, explaining that the sensation of pain is initially picked up from the skin by the peripheral nerves, sent to the spinal cord, which acts as a sort of control and modulator, and then onto the brain, where it is consciously perceived.
“We know that acute pain is transmitted by fast fibres, called A-delta. Slow pain is by C fibres. (And) there’s something in between called A-beta fibres. A-beta fibres relay pressure sensation.
“Now, in the spinal cord, there’s something called the gate; and the gate should be closed when the pain sensation disappears.
“But in chronic pain, the gate remains open, but if you stimulate the A-beta fibres, the gate closes,” she shares.
Western medical acupuncture works by stimulating the A-beta fibres to release the body’s own endorphins – those feel-good hormones that also act as a natural painkiller, thus, utilising the body’s own mechanisms to treat its pain.
Dr Maya says that unlike traditional acupuncture, a medical diagnosis is required before undergoing Western medical acupuncture, and the technique itself is guided by knowledge of modern anatomy and a medical examination.
In addition, the technique is backed up by scientific studies and evidence to show that this form of acupuncture does indeed relieve pain, especially in acute muscle pain, nerve pain, headache, osteoarthritis of the knee, and joint and back aches in pregnant women.
Those same studies show that about 10% of the population do not respond to any form of acupuncture at all.
Dr Maya shares that it is possible to test a person’s responsiveness to acupuncture by inserting a needle at a particular spot in the knee or hand. This should elicit a warm sensation if the person is responsive to acupuncture.
While the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines permit up to 10 treatment sessions, Dr Maya says that she typically prescribes between six to 10 sessions of 15-30 minutes’ duration.
“By the fourth session, you should know already whether the treatment is going to be effective,” she says, adding that twiddling the needles or using a machine to deliver a low current through the needles can also help to enhance the efficacy of the treatment.
“Of course, this is a short-term measure, to help reduce the intensity of the pain and to allow patients to reduce the usage of medication; it isn’t a cure.
“Unfortunately, most chronic-type pain is not curative, so people have to come back for top-up sessions every few months, which they find more acceptable than say, steroid injections or taking painkillers with side effects,” she says.
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