Acupuncture and Traffic Control

I am often asked how acupuncture works, and what it is the needles are actually doing. When explaining this to my patients an analogy that seems to make sense to them is to compare our state of health and well-being to the flow of traffic around a city centre. When traffic is flowing smoothly and freely there is harmony. Each driver is, in general,  happy.

acupuncture and traffic control

Traffic Control Centre

If however a car breaks down and blocks the carriageway, or there are roadworks, traffic becomes congested and slows. Individual drivers may feel frustrated and unhappy and may be driven to reckless behaviour. Each city area has a sophisticated traffic control centre which allows monitoring of traffic flow at key points around the road network, and can intervene to change the sequence of traffic lights in order to keep drivers moving. Traffic police may also be despatched to the scene of an accident. It is worth commenting that maximum traffic disruption may be experienced at some distance away from the accident blackspot.

Drawing upon this parallel, the job of the professional acupuncturist is to promote movement, after all movement is synonymous with life itself. Each of us may experience sluggish ‘traffic flow’ as for example pain, stiffness, congestion or a feeling of ‘being out of sorts’. The acupuncturist sits in his ‘control room’ and monitors the flow of Qi (meaning vital energy, and pronounced ‘chee’) through the acupuncture channels (or meridians) by feeling the pulse points on the wrist. He may for example feel that the flow of Qi in the spleen channel is slowed, which can be confirmed if the patient has loose stools and abdominal distension after eating.

Fine needles are then placed in acupuncture points, which act like the traffic police to restore traffic flow. As in the traffic analogy, the needles may be placed in areas away from the discomfort site (eg in the feet or legs in this example).

acupuncture channels

The acupuncture channels of the body are like roads

The key skill demonstrated by a good acupuncturist is the ability to accurately assess which ‘roads’ are blocked and to produce effective remedial action. The ‘traffic cops’ are available in many different forms – needles, moxa cones, cups, fingers. ‘What do these do?’ do I hear you ask? Well that is a story for another day.

What Is Acupuncture Good For?

This is a question I am very frequently asked. If you mention Chiropractic, most people will tell you it is something to do with treating bad backs. When I first started in practice 20 years ago people would be certain that acupuncture was something to do with giving up smoking – even though this bore little relationship to my everyday practice.What Is Acupuncture Good For?

So how would I describe what acupuncture is good for? Its effectiveness for specific conditions is a hot potato amongst researchers at the moment (try putting ‘acupuncture research’ into Google) often leading to heated debate between proponents and detractors.

The British Acupuncture Council have produced a series of factsheets that provide accurate and unbiased general information for a variety of conditions.

Putting aside for the moment the issue of its benefit in specific diseases, there are some general effects that most patients are likely to experience. These are :-

  • A general sense of well-being
  • Better energy levels
  • Improved sleeping
  • A greater zest for life

Although of course this will depend on your overall state of health when you present for treatment, it is easy to see that these are factors that in themselves can influence a wide variety of medical conditions. For example, your back pain might be improved after a good night’s sleep.

Traditional acupuncture aims to treat the whole person rather than targetting specific symptoms, which makes it effective for a range of conditions. This approach also means that each patient’s treatment plan will be different.

So in essence we could say that acupuncture can be good for well-being and energy, and is individually tailored to your specific circumstances. It can also be helpful in treating a variety of conditions.

And coming back to the subject of backs, in 2009 the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended that acupuncture should be made available on the NHS, as a cost-effective short-term treatment for the management of early, persistent non-specific lower back pain.



A New Experience For Becky

In her popular blog Baby Budgeting, Becky Goddard-Hill writes about her first time experiences of acupuncture during the recent acupuncture awareness week organised by The British Acupuncture Council. A new experience for BeckyShe charts her inner thoughts starting from initial anxieties (‘the thought of needles begin stuck in my body didn’t thrill me!’) through her first experience of needles to satisfactory conclusion (‘I am intrigued and no longer afraid’).

Read her blog here.

Comfortable Needling

People are often put off by the prospect of acupuncture because they think the needles are going to be painful. Is this true?

Comfortable Needling

Comfortable Needling

In fact you may well be confusing these needles with the hollow injection needles we have all experienced at our GP’s surgery. Because acupuncture needles do not need to be hollow they are much finer – around the thickness of a human hair. Go on take a look at one of your’s.

So what does acupuncture treatment actually feel like? I prefer to describe it as ‘not nothing’ but rather as ‘a mild fleeting sensation’. According to the British Acupuncture Council, which has over 3,000 members in the UK, “when the needle is inserted you may feel a tingling sensation or dull ache “. According to ancient Chinese texts, this is analagous to a fish biting on the fisherman’s hook. This process is often described as ‘DeQi’ or ‘obtaining the Qi’. Qi pronounced ‘chee’) is the vital energy which flows in the acupuncture channels, so it could be argued that the experience of obtaining DeQi is an essential part of acupuncture.Comfortable needling

The skilled acupuncturist will combine the use of modern high quality needles with many, many hours of carefully refined practice so that the experience for you, the patient is as easy as possible without compromising the effectiveness of the treatment.

All needles used by British Acupuncture Council registered practitioners are single-use disposable.

And finally, in the words of one of my patients:-

“In my experience acupuncture is a calming painless experience. I hardly feel the needle go in, I don’t even know it is there once in. Occasionally I might feel a tingle but even that is rare. Actually an incidental benefit, is that it forces me to relax and totally switch off for half an hour!” “Once the needle is in place, you cannot feel it, but sometimes have nice, warm, tingling sensations, depending on the points”.

The Emotional Side of IVF

The emotional side of IVF is often underplayed. As a fertility acupuncturist who works with many couples undergoing IVF, I can easily see why the process is often described as an ’emotional rollercoaster ride’. Much of the brunt of this is carried by the woman as the treatment cycle looms, but it can be challenging for both partners.

The emotional side of IVFWhether you are undergoing your very first cycle or your fifth, you will have invested heavily (both financially and emotionally) and your future is linked intrinsically to the result. On top of this, the drugs you have been prescribed seem to be specifically formulated to take you out of your carefully constructed comfort zone. You feel hot at night and just a little nauseous. Good intentions go to the wall.

There’s also the prospect of injecting yourself with a frighteningly large needle, and making sense of the seemingly impenetrable medical jargon and numbers. Ten follicles, grade B, down-regulation, stimulation, OHSS and so on!

And if all this isn’t enough, you read that stress can negatively affect the outcome of the treatment! What should you do? What can you do?

This is one area where many people have found fertility acupuncture to be a great help. You may have come across some of the recent publicity during acupuncture awareness week, which illustrated the benefit that acupuncture can bring to dealing with stress and improving general well-being ( Aside from any direct effects on your fertility (such as regulation of hormones and improving blood flow to your uterus and ovaries), many of my patients undergoing IVF report that it helps them with the side effects of the medication and puts them in a good space mentally. In the words of three of my patients:-

‘I just wanted to say thanks for being the calming influence that you were’.

‘My stress levels reduced quite noticeably which was great. We are expecting twins’.

‘Martin came highly recommended. He treats the ‘whole person’ and I found this way of breaking down a problem into manageable, bite-size pieces, extremely helpful. I actually felt better just from the consultation.  To be ‘listened to’ and ‘understood’ is so refreshing. Thoroughly recommend you give it a try’.

I strongly believe that a key part in the work of any fertility acupuncturist is to be a sympathetic ear. Acupuncture treatment points such as gateway to the heart, greater stream, storehouse, inner frontier and palace of weariness can help you to feel in control and make your IVF cycle something special. And all this is underpinned by individual treatment tailored to your specific needs.


Martin Dean, The Acupuncture Fertility Centre

Call 07 969 413158 for an appointment.