Stress in the study of psychology, can be acute or chronic with sufferers not only experiencing such symptoms as feeling overwhelmed, feelings of anxiety and insecurity, depression and panic attacks; but also being more susceptible to illnesses like the common cold. Research has shown that those with good social support can have a degree of protection against the physical and mental consequences of stress. According to the health and safety executive, up to half a million people in the UK experience work-related stress every year.
The conventional treatment strategy for stress is usually medication such as anti-anxiety drugs, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Traditional acupuncture can also play a very effective part in addressing stress, and stress related conditions.
How does it do this?
The approach taken to treating stress and stress related conditions, will be the same as it is for any condition. Acupuncture is a holistic treatment, and so seeks to look at the person as a whole. Any symptoms observed give clues to the internal environment of the body, and will be observed together to make the diagnosis.
What evidence is available to show the effectiveness of traditional acupuncture to address stress?
The British Acupuncture has produced a number of fact sheets about acupuncture treatment and a variety of conditions. The sheets include a discussion of the available research for the condition. The fact sheet for stress can be found at:
A number of successful pieces of research are discussed in the sheet, amongst them one where the acupuncture point Heart 7 was needled in 4 weekly sessions using 17 volunteers. 94% of them showed improved ‘psychological stress’ according to a symptom measurement scale known as, the Edinburgh Postnatal depression scale – EPDS. The greatest fall in scores was observed after the first two treatments. Also at the end of the study the average reduction was 44%.
The underlying principle of traditional acupuncture is that all the body’s functions are connected by the flow of qi or vital energy around the body. Stress and stress related conditions occur when the flow of qi has been impaired in some way. The purpose of diagnosis, as with Western doctors, is to identify the nature and cause of the imbalance, and is carried out using observation, questioning and palpation. Specifically, observation of the development and strength of the body, whether wasted or thin, robust or weak, and how the patient moves, either with rapid movement or lack of movement. Questioning, will address the full medical history, and how the symptoms are affecting the quality of life of the person. With stress the acupuncturist may want to enquire specifically about sleep disturbance and the feelings of being overwhelmed which can be associated with stress. Palpation includes pulse diagnosis where the acupuncturist will read up to 28 different pulse qualities, on both wrists. By assessing the strength, depth, rhythm and rate of the pulse, different types of disharmony and imbalance of the qi can be identified. Observation also involves examining the tongue, as we have seen.
Having diagnosed the nature and cause of the imbalance a treatment plan will be devised which will be specific to the patient and their condition. This is aimed at resolving the root cause of a condition, as well as addressing the symptoms or complications. The treatment is carried out by inserting ultra fine sterile disposable needles into selected acupuncture points on the body to regulate the flow of qi in the meridians or channels.
The British Acupuncture Council The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) was formed in 1995. With around 3000 qualified members it represents the largest body of traditional acupuncturists in the UK and guarantees excellence in training, safe practice, professional conduct and continuing professional development.
BAcC registered acupuncturists are trained in relevant aspects of Western medicine including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology and aetiology. In addition, all BAcC registered acupuncturists are trained to recognise in their patients warning signs known as ‘red flags’. Red flags may indicate the presence of a life-threatening condition and such patients are immediately referred on to other healthcare practitioners for tests and treatment where appropriate.
To find a qualified acupuncturist or to ask a question about acupuncture and stress related conditions, please visit www.acupuncture.org.uk