Health: What’s the point of acupuncture?

Reporter Jonathan Brown trials acupuncture treatment at Phoenix Health and Wellbeing in Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Reporter Jonathan Brown trials acupuncture treatment at Phoenix Health and Wellbeing in Leeds. Picture by Simon Hulme.

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What on earth will having needles stuck in your body do for your health?

That’s the reaction sceptics blurted out on hearing I’d offered to give treatment a go as part of Acupuncture Awareness Week, which starts today.

Karen Charlesworth applies an acupuncture needle. Picture by Simon Hulme.

Karen Charlesworth applies an acupuncture needle. Picture by Simon Hulme.

You may not have had the dates in your diary, but thousands of people swear by pain-relieving acupuncture.

The practice revolves around pressing fine needles into the skin at designated pressure points, which are traditionally linked to smoothing the flow of energy through the body.

Images of blood, pain and a back to rival that of a hedgehog were quickly extinguished on my visit to the Phoenix Health and Wellbeing clinic at Oxford Chambers, in Leeds.

Instead a shared space with three treatment beds and a few friendly, relaxed voices met me at this charity-run centre, which ploughs profits into subsidising massage, counselling and bodywork therapies for those with mental and physical health issues.

Acupuncturist Karen Charlesworth, an ex-newspaper journalist from York, put me at ease. She explained that acupuncture had become a last resort for her as she battled crippling migraines brought on through stress in 2007.

“I was off work more than I was in work,” she said. “I had been having the migraines for about a year. MRI scans showed there was nothing sinister going on and a friend suggested acupuncture. I would give anything a go, I was a total sceptic but I was so desperate.”

Within three months of treatment for her migraines, which caused her to vomit and become sensitive to light and sound, massively reduced. She left journalism to retrain as a therapist and has not had a migraine in three years.

“A lot of people think it’s a load of mumbo jumbo because you can’t explain it like Western medicine. The reality is people write it off,” she said.

Despite the treatment’s mythical beginnings in ancient China, acupuncture has more clinical credentials than most people realise.

It’s one of the few holistic treatments recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for lower back pain and headaches for example, it’s the subject of university study and is available on the NHS. Scientific research has found the process stimulates muscle tissue and provokes the release of pain-relieving chemicals in the body.

After my brief consultation I was laid down and pricked with needles in my forehead, to calm the spirit, my wrists, to calm systemic heat, and knees, to help my digestion. It was virtually painless and somehow – in a room alien to me, still half-dressed in a shirt and tie – I genuinely relaxed.

Acupuncture is an unknown quantity for most of us, but thousands of years of traditions surely weren’t for nothing.

FREE AWARENESS WEEK SESSIONS

Free acupuncture sessions will run at Phoenix Health and Wellbeing for Acupuncture Awareness Week on Wednesday.

The centre runs a weekly Leeds Community Acupuncture clinic, which offers subsidised treatments for people with physical health problems.

Director Gill Trevor opened the centre a year ago after seeing the benefit of holistic therapies while volunteering at St Gemma’s Hospice.

For information call 0113 2340818 or email info@phoenixhealthandwellbeing.org.uk.

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