Long Covid – acupuncture treatment and insights

 ‘Long Covid’, or ongoing severe symptoms following an acute Covid infection, remains a distressing problem and one that Western Medicine struggles to understand and treat. Recent research  suggests that it may be due to an over-reaction of our immune system, which produces persistent antibodies that attack our own body systems rather than the virus . These ‘autoantibodies’ are a feature of other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, so their effects are something that I am used to treating. Chinese medicine views these problems as being due to a blockage in the flow of Qi (or energy) and I use particular acupuncture treatments to clear blockages and help the body systems to strengthen and rebalance themselves.

Struggling up to full health

See my previous blog for more details of Long Covid symptoms and your acupuncture treatment.

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Recovering from Covid-19 – acupuncture can help restore your strength and balance

Are you one of the people who are finding it hard to recover from Covid-19 – maybe with many variable symptoms and extreme exhaustion? What a confusing infection! Some people barely know they have it, others become critically ill and now a different group of people are describing severe longer-term symptoms. While Covid-19 is new to us, I regularly use acupuncture to treat people with similar longer term illness, characterised by low physical and mental energy and a confusing jumble of symptoms. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine treats each person as an individual and focuses on rebuilding physical and emotional balance and strong and dependable energy.

Winifred Nicholson

Kate’s Flowers (1936) by Winifred Nicholson.

The Covid-19 virus is capable of infecting not only our lungs, but also many of our other body systems – such as our digestive system, muscles and joints, nerves etc. In terms of Chinese medicine this invasion gives rise to phlegm, damp, heat, or cold, all of which interfere with the normal circulation of energy, blood and body fluids. Without the normal circulation, the body systems cannot work smoothly and cannot stay in balance with one another. As an acupuncture practitioner I begin treatment by listening carefully to your own experience, asking questions about it and your previous health, and observing you and your pulse and tongue carefully. Then I can piece together how the virus has affected your body, mind and spirit and plan a course of treatment. By combining acupuncture treatment with self-help advice and repeated feedback and adjustment to the plan, we can influence and support the natural healing powers of your body. Not an instant cure – but a road to recovery.

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Defend yourself against coronavirus, Covid-19 – help from Chinese medicine

Chinese medicine has a recorded history of over two thousand years of combating epidemics in China and beyond, with acupuncture playing a vital role alongside herbal medicine. Today in China it is used alongside Western medicine in most hospitals and evidence from Wuhan and elsewhere suggests it still has an important part to play.

Chinese medicine understands the health effects of an infection by a virus such as coronavirus in terms of the balance between your own energy and constitutional strength and the potential harmful effects of the virus. In other words, we should not only focus on the virus itself but also on our own general health, in terms of body, mind and spirit. This is why the virus has different effects in different people. It means that although we cannot change the virus, we can reduce the harm it does us by building our own vitality and health. We are not passive victims, but can mount our own defence. Although here in the UK, Chinese medicine practitioners such as myself are at present unable to treat people who are facing infection or recovering from it, I would urge all of us to heed the following self-care advice . It is taken from a blog by Bryan McMahon, (https://www.thewanderingcloud.com/the-archives/understanding-the-epidemic) . It is based on the theories underlying Chinese medicine, in which terms such as ‘damp’ and ‘stagnant’ have a particular meaning.

Adjusting your diet.

A virus must find the appropriate terrain within which to take hold and replicate. This particular one seems to prefer damp, stagnant conditions. This means adjusting dietary choices by eating lighter, easy to digest, mostly warm, cooked foods.

Cut back on or completely avoid processed foods, sweets, beer, and any cold and frozen items from the refrigerator. Augment meal preparation with plenty of fresh herbs and fragrant spices (such as cumin, cardamom, nutmeg etc).

If juicing is part of your daily health regimen, stick mostly to vegetable juices and supplement with fresh ginger, turmeric, pepper, parsley, coriander and small amounts of garlic.

potager re covid-19

Maintain appropriate daily exercise. 

Exercise helps alleviate all forms of stagnation, dispel constrained heat through sweating and keep the surface open to alleviate pressure on the respiratory system. Exercise according to your ability – there are plenty of ideas available on YouTube, including seated exercises. Do not overdo vigorous exercise – avoid pushing yourself to your limit and feeling exhausted.

Make time for at least one extra hour of sleep every day.

Sleep is the foundation of immunity; aim for 8-9 hours of good quality sleep each night, and schedule in a short nap period during the day. Adjust this advice to suit your own sleeping patterns.

Lastly, remain present and grounded in the face of generalized anxiety and unrest.

When we are calmly present and attuned to our life situation, immunity will flourish. Our body will clearly distinguish what is you from what is not and your immune system will take action accordingly. The clarity of this integration of mind and body is badly disturbed by the adrenal stimulation brought on by fear and panic. News and social media rely largely on a negative emotional response in order to keep their audience engaged; try not to get caught up in this circle of fear and frustration.


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Strengthening our lungs: self-help and acupuncture

Autumn – the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – is also the time when our lungs need our help the most. Maybe you have a tendency for colds to go onto your chest, or have asthma or other chronic lung disease. Or maybe you just want to stay well and be able to get on with life. For all of us, the following information about breathing exercises and diet will help us understand how to care for ourselves. Self-care, backed up by acupuncture when necessary, is a fundamental aspect of Chinese medicine.

autumn pic 1

My thanks to the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine in Reading for the following information.

Breath and the Lungs 

In Chinese Medicine the Lungs are one of the main ways we get Qi, or energy, into the body. They are said to ‘govern’ Qi.
When we breathe in, the Lungs take Qi from the world and bring it into the body. Qi is the active energy needed for all the body’s processes. It is like the electricity that allows the light to shine.
If the Lungs are strong they can take in more Qi and distribute it around the body to maintain healthy and vital functions.
If the Lungs are weak we can feel tired and prone to difficulty coping with loss and change.

Our skin and immunity also reflect the strength of our Lung Qi. Good Qi protects us from external weather and pathogens and allows the skin to release toxins. Weak Lung Qi can make us susceptible to catching colds, flu and asthma. Our sense of smell might be weaker and we might get congested easily.

The Lungs are instrumental in helping us relax and be emotionally balanced. We can deal with loss and grief in a balanced and healthy way.

Autumn is the time our Lungs need our help the most.

Qigong breathing practice

We can breathe when sitting, standing or moving. It takes time to learn to breathe properly so this should be done slowly without strain.

Breathing should be done in a relaxed way and the breath should not be held or be jerky.

  1. Breathe in through the nose into the lower abdomen so that it expands and fills out like a balloon. Be careful that you feel no physical pressure below the top of your pubic bone.
  2. Keeping the breathing smooth exhale and let the balloon in the abdomen deflate.
  3. Allow these breathing movements to be rhythmic, slow and even.
  4. As you practice you can also learn to breathe into your sides and back and kidneys. Later you can learn to breathe into the upper sides and upper back as well.”

From: Principles of Chinese Medicine by Angela Hicks (available from: http://www.acupuncturecollege.org.uk/books)

Helpful seasonal nutrition

From: Danny Blyth and Greg Lampert, Chinese Dietary Wisdom (available from: http://www.acupuncturecollege.org.uk/books)
In the autumn and winter, our system needs a richer diet, with more protein, to keep our bodies warm and energised. To help us digest these richer foods, we also need more digestives, such as herbs and gentle spices. Warming cooking methods such as casseroles, stews, roasting and soups should be chosen, and salads and cold foods should be reduced.

Here is a list of foods beneficial and strengthening for the Lungs:

~ Garlic                                     ~ Sweet potato
~ Ginger                                    ~ Onion
~ Cabbage                                ~ Pears
~ Walnuts                                  ~ Black pepper
~ Radish                                    ~ Rice
~ Chilli                                       ~ Cinnamon
~ Cardamom                             ~ Leek
~ Miso                                       ~ Navy Beans
~ Soy Beans                             ~ Almonds
~ Asparagus                             ~ Broccoli
~ Cucumber                              ~ Celery
~ Mustard Greens                     ~ Apricot
~ Banana                                   ~ Eggs

And lastly, from me, if you would like to read the whole autumnal poem that starts ‘The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, here it is

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Acupuncture for shingles and post- herpetic neuralgia

Shingles is an extremely painful rash and ‘flu like illness, caused by the chickenpox virus (more details here).  It is due to a re-activation of a previous infection. Most people who have shingles seek advice and treatment from their GP and a course of anti-viral tablets may be effective. However acupuncture also has a lot to offer. When the rash first appears, acupuncture can relieve some of the pain very quickly. More often, I see people who are having continuing pain and illness after the worst of the rash has gone – so-called post-herpetic neuralgia. These ongoing symptoms are difficult to treat by Western medicine such as painkillers but may respond well to a course of acupuncture treatment. I have also found acupuncture helpful for people who continue to get recurrences of shingles long after the acute attack is past.

Traditionally, Chinese medicine understands shingles in terms of the body being invaded by harmful pathogens. It was recognised that this ‘invasion’ could be a re-activation of latent pathogens from an earlier infection.  It did not know these as viruses but described them as Heat, Damp and Wind. These pathogens block the normal circulation of Qi and when Qi is blocked it always causes pain. The Heat is obvious in the hot red rash and often a slight fever, and the Damp shows itself in the pus inside the spots. The sudden arrival of the rash is caused by the Wind.

red flowers for shingles

It is important to treat both the immediate rash and pain and the underlying weakness or imbalance that allowed the pathogens to erupt again.  So when I use acupuncture for shingles I start by helping the body to expel the Heat, Damp and Wind so that the Qi can move smoothly through the channels and the body tissues. Often there is an immediate improvement in symptoms but several treatments may be every few days to turn the corner in improvement. I am more likely to see you after the acute phases has passed but you are still having pain and maybe flare ups of milder rash. I have successfully treated people many months later, and once someone who had had shingle flare ups for several years. At this stage some clearing of Heat and Damp will still be needed but it is also important to consider you as a whole person and understand the underlying imbalances and which systems need strengthening. This constitutional work is a slower job, maybe every week or two for a couple of months or more but has many extra benefits. It is common for the imbalances that cause shingles to flare up are causing other health problems, or a feeling of general tiredness or emotional upset. By strengthening your constitution these other symptoms should improve along with your general feeling of wellbeing. Acupuncture can be used at the same time as Western medical treatment and usually allows people to gradually reduce or stop any shingles related medication.


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