Years ago I suffered a nasty bout of wrist pain. The symptoms could have derived from any of repetitive motions that my daily routine entailed: typing, playing air hockey, waving at pensioners, feeding grain to pigeons etc. In search of a cure, I underwent a medical tour of Melbourne, visiting a variety of medical practitioners, who, puzzlingly, all diagnosed me with a different condition. After being encouraged to undergo an aggressive operation that would see my arm recalibrated with wires and pins (and endure one year on the sidelines), I decided to cast my net wider and enter the world of alternative medicine. As you’re probably expecting, a Chinese practitioner healed me in one session. A few simple questions, some movements, deep contemplation, then he swooped in with a definitive conclusion: my posture was terrible and I had low circulation. Within a month of following his advice, I was as good as new. I’ve since been intrigued by Chinese medicine. On one hand, fascinated by its mysticism; the potions, the pins, the cauldron of bubbling bark, and on the other, the cynic in me still screams woo-woo; how can these draconian practices still be relevant in the day of bio-engineering and AI doctors? Truth is, I’m still shamefully ignorant, even since my eureka moment. Brigitte Lalor is a Chinese medical practitioner at Discover Chinese Acupuncture in Elwood. In an attempt to shore up my misapprehensions, I put some questions to Brigitte.
IN A NUTSHELL, WHAT IS CHINESE MEDICINE?
Chinese Medicine has a comprehensive and effective diagnostic system where a relationship exists between the outward signs and the internal functioning of the body. It is summarised in an expression “Inspect the exterior to examine the interior”. The Chinese Physician is interested in how the body functions and will diagnose disorders through four diagnostic methods: Looking Are the eyes glittering, is the mind clear, muscle firm, breathing even, colour of the face, colour of the tongue body Hearing & Smelling Sound and pitch of their voice, coughing, hiccups, borborygmi (noisy stomach), breathing, body odour, smell of the breath Asking Chills and fever, sweating, appetite, thirst and drink, digestion, sleep, stools and urine, ears, eyes, head, pain, period Feeling Taking pulse, feeling the temperature of the body, palpating the abdomen and muscles It is important in Chinese Medicine to view the signs and symptoms in relation to each other.
CAN YOU SUM UP THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WESTERN AND CHINESE MEDICINE?
Chinese Medicine can recognise a disease pattern and treat it along before it can be detected through a blood test and be medically diagnosed. During a diagnosis, the Chinese medicine practitioner is concerned with all aspects of the patient’s health, such a family and medical history, their main complaint, any pain sensations, energy levels, emotional states, sleeping patterns, digestion, as well as other relevant information such as occupation and living conditions. Chinese Medicine believes symptoms don’t just arrive out of nowhere. They see symptoms as a manifestation of an underlying malfunction or disease process. An underlying malfunction can give rise to an array different symptoms that may seem unrelated – for example, chest and rib pain, abdominal pain that comes and goes, vertex pain at the top of the head, woman may observe symptoms as premenstrual distending pain in the breast, menstrual pain, or menstrual irregularities) – however these may be all expression of an underlying problem. The aim of Chinese Medicine is to restore balance to the internal environment of the body. To do this, it’s necessary to re-diagnose at regular intervals and modify the treatment according to changing circumstances. This is a strength of Chinese medicine and makes the treatment very precise. With Acupuncture, you are stimulating the body’s own immune system and capitalising on the bodies superior ability to heal its self.
DOES ACUPUNCTURE HURT?
Acupuncture rarely hurts. You usually don’t feel the needle being inserted as they are quite fine. Most people experience is a dull ache around the base of the inserted needle on manipulation. Points on the hands and feet can sometimes be a little sharp, but the sensation is usually brief.
THE CHINESE HAVE A MORE HOLISTIC APPROACH TO HEALTH, WITH MORE EMPHASIS ON PREVENTION RATHER THAN THE CAUSE. IF YOU COULD CHERRY-PICK ONE PIECE OF ADVICE FROM THEIR LIFESTYLE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Working on your health and wellbeing is a day to day practice, you can impact your health in many ways each day by making choices that support good health. Getting a good amount of sleep, warm slow-cooked meals, sitting down to eat, regular exercise and stretching to help with lives stresses. Good health is something you need to work on. Working on your health and wellbeing is an investment in your short and long-term quality of life. All disease involves a disturbance in homeostasis. Homeostasis refers to the bodies ability to regulate its environment and maintain internal balance. Acupuncture stimulates the peripheral nervous system which stimulates major systems in the body to regulate and return internal balance. If we understand this, we begin to understand why acupuncture can be so effective for so many conditions. Having regular treatments can keep your body strong.
ALONGSIDE THE AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINALS, THE CHINESE ARE ONE OF THE OLDEST CULTURES. DO YOU THINK THIS HAS A BEARING ON THEIR MEDICAL PRACTICES?
Yes absolutely. I have limited knowledge of aboriginal healing practices, but I am guessing their knowledge would have been passed down through stories, as they didn’t have written language per se. Old cultures have had time to observe medical practice and experience all types of disease over thousands of years. Experimentation as either a last resort, playful inquisition or observing animals behaviour (e.g. eating a particular plant when ill) have all led to the evolution of tribal medicine. You know something has a solid foundation when it has been around for thousands of years. Chinese physicians discovered and noted that certain tender points on the body would reflect internal disease conditions, and at the same time, these points could be stimulated to relieve pain and treat the internal problem. This was a revolutionary discovery of afferent/efferent nerves that formed the theoretical basis for acupuncture treatment.
WHAT IS AN ACUPUNCTURE POINT?
An acupuncture point is a small node that is rich in Sensory nerve fibres, fine blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and mast cells. The ancient Chinese physicians had an amazing knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Acupuncture points follow neuro-vascular pathways that run mainly in a longitude direction. Acupuncture points are located in the body where: • nerves exit the fascia • the nerve (bifurcates) branches off into different directions, • the nerve enters the muscle, • the nerve exits a hole in the bone • a muscle becomes isolated • there is a transition from a muscle into the tendon.
HOW DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK TO MANAGE PAIN?
The blood contains everything we need to heal. This is significant, as Acupuncture promotes blood flow. Blood contains oxygen, nutrients absorbed from food, immune substances, hormones, anti-inflammatories, analgesics (help reduce pain). Acupuncture helps relax shorted muscles. This relieves pressure on nerves, vascular system and joints, this allows things to move easily in the body. Acupuncture stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which regulates the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes the body. Acupuncture creates micro-traumas, which activate the healing process in the tissues and also any surrounding tissue damage from previous injuries.