Gerard Wherity


Chinese Herbal Medicine

Dover House, 2 Dover Close,
Poole, BH13 6EA (map)

Tel: 01202 798616
Mobile: 07513 340681

Acupuncture is used for the treatment of people with a wide range of painful injuries and illnesses. The notes below provide some insight into just a few of these, but are by no means meant to be an exclusive list. If you have any questions or a particular problem that you would like to discuss then please just give us a ring on 01202 798616.

Did you know?

Back and Neck Pain
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) now recommends that persistent low back pain with no clear cause should be treated with acupuncture, appropriate exercise or manual therapy. The official advice is for "up to 10 sessions over a period of up to 12 weeks", but people often respond to treatment much more quickly.

This advice follows the publication of a number of studies showing acupuncture can be an effective treatment to relieve back pain.
Researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine analysed dozens of such studies over a period of four years. One of the authors, Eric Manheimer, said that "for people with chronic low back pain, this analysis shows that acupuncture is clearly effective in providing considerable pain relief," and "the research also showed that acupuncture provided true pain relief. The benefit was not just due to the placebo effect."
Depending on the nature and location of the pain, needles can be placed in the area of the pain or sometimes in the legs, behind or often below the knee. For neck problems a point on the edge of the hand just below the little finger is more frequently used. This is because Chinese medicine recognises links between different parts of the body along what are known as "channels" or "meridians". One channel runs up the back of the legs and then either side of the spine, while another runs along the outside edge of the hands, across the shoulders and towards the neck.

An extensive German study tested the effects of acupuncture on patients with osteoarthritis of various joints including the thumb. Patients received on average 8 or 9 acupuncture treatments over a period of around 6 weeks. The researchers concluded that "after treatment and six months after inclusion (in the trial), patients reported less pain, medication use, and disability; better physical health and mental health; better scores for sensory and affective aspects of pain; and lower depression scores." The improvements were "statistically highly significant" in nearly all the subgroups that they examined. The research was published in the Rheumatology journal.
Another large trial involving nearly 600 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee was carried out at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Acupuncture was give 24 times over a period of 6 months, initially twice a week reducing to once a month at the end of the trial. Patients reported a 40 percent improvement in both pain and function from their baseline scores. The principal investigator, Professor Berman, professor of family medicine at the University, said that "before taking part in our study, many of the patients were taking anti-inflammatory medicine but they still experienced a lot of pain. When we added acupuncture to their treatment, the majority reported significant improvement."

In 2009 the internationally recognised Cochrane Collaboration produced an updated review of the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of tension-type headaches. They assessed the results of 11 trials involving over two thousand people. In the two largest trials "forty-seven percent of patients receiving acupuncture reported a decrease in the number of headache days by at least 50%, compared to 16% of patients in the control groups". The authors concluded that "acupuncture could be a valuable non-pharmacological tool in patients with frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches".
In September 2012 the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence produced updated guidelines for the management of headaches. It recommended that for patients with tension-type headaches doctors should consider prescribing appropriate painkillers for acute treatment together with a course of acupuncture to prevent further headaches. The same guidance warned of the possibility that overuse of pain relief medication might itself cause headaches. Overuse was defined as the use of paracetamol, aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (alone or in combination) for 15 days a month or more over a period of at least 3 months. Acupuncture was also recommended for patients with migraines where medication had proved ineffective or unsuitable.
Another Cochrane review of treatment for migraine headache considered over twenty clinical trials involving more than four thousand people. It found "consistent evidence that acupuncture provides additional benefit to treatment of acute migraine attacks" as well as being of benefit in routine care. In the four trials in which acupuncture was compared to the normal drug treatment, patients receiving acupuncture tended to report more improvement and fewer side effects. One of the larger trials included in the review also provided long-term follow up, and found "no evidence that effects dissipated up to 9 months after cessation of treatment".

Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is a surprisingly common ailment and the term is often used to cover a variety of digestive problems with no clear cause. Symptoms typically include abdominal cramps and diarrhoea or constipation (sometimes alternating between the two). It can be extremely unpleasant, can flare up especially with stress, and is sometimes associated with fatigue and muscle pains. Unsurprisingly it can have a serious effect on people's quality of life. A number of acupuncture points are used for digestive problems and associated pain. Some are situated on the abdomen, but many are on the legs, and there are two particular points roughly mid-way between the knee and ankle which are frequently used.
The treatment of digestive problems with herbs is a major part of the Chinese herbal medicine tradition. Perhaps the best known in the UK is ginger (Chinese name sheng jiang). A few slices in hot water can help to relieve nausea, and it can also be beneficial if you are suffering from a cold.
Researchers in Sydney conducted a trial involving over one hundred patients. They found that patients using Chinese herbal medicine "had significant improvement in bowel symptom scores as rated by patients and by gastroenterologists". "Patients reported that treatment significantly reduced the degree of interference with life caused by IBS symptoms". Some of the patients had a general prescription while others had herbs specific to their particular symptoms. Both sets of patients showed an immediate improvement but after 14 weeks the improvement was only maintained in the group with specific treatment. This is no surprise to practitioners of Chinese medicine - prescriptions are very much tailored to individuals rather than assuming that a generic approach can be effective.

Tennis Elbow
Known by the technical term lateral epiconylitis, referring to inflammation around the bone that can be felt along the outside of the elbow. This is where the tendons of the muscles in the back of the forearm attach to the bone. If you make a fist and pull your hand back you can usually feel the associated muscles quite easily, and patients are often surprised to find that the muscles themselves are sore as well as the elbow. A paper in the international journal Rheumatology looked at 6 different studies and concluded that "there is strong evidence suggesting that acupuncture is effective in the short-term relief of lateral epicondyle pain".

Gerard Wherity is a fully qualified member of the British Acupuncture Council and the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. He practises in the Poole and Bournemouth area.

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Lime flower photograph by Kilian (source).