Treating fibromyalgia with acupuncture to circulate your Qi

Pains all over your body, extreme tiredness, difficulty with concentration and sleep – this combination of symptoms is often due to a condition called fibromyalgia. If you are someone who suffers from fibromyalgia you may have found that Western medical doctors are a bit puzzled by it and don’t have much treatment to offer.  Luckily, Chinese medicine uses different theories to understand and treat this collection of symptoms and by using acupuncture I am often able relieve a lot of the distress. Like most illnesses, it may be triggered by both physical and emotional factors, and treating the ‘whole person’ is very important.

Chinese medicine diagnoses illness in terms of Qi (which may be translated as energy, life-force, or the stuff that makes us alive). The severe muscular pains felt by people with fibromyalgia are usually due to Qi not flowing smoothly round the body, and so I start treatment with some acupuncture needles in points that are especially good for moving Qi. However, there are usually other imbalances that also need to be treated to get to the underlying cause of ‘stuck Qi’. And other weaknesses that relate to all the other symptoms that people may have such as sleeping problems, poor memory, anxiety or depression.

For example, a woman in her late 30’s had developed the symptoms of fibromyalgia five years ago soon after the birth of her second child. She had muscular pains that were especially bad in her back. In addition she couldn’t get to sleep at night and then only slept fitfully for a total of about two hours each night. She also had anxiety and panic attacks for which she took medication from her doctor. I started with acupuncture points that helped the Qi to move round the body and her back pain quickly improved after only a few treatments and didn’t recur. However, underlying this and causing her sleep problems was a weakness in her Qi and blood that stemmed from her pregnancies and difficult births. Treatment to strengthen her blood took many more weeks to start improving her sleep but in doing so it also helped her energy levels and feelings of anxiety. In addition to acupuncture I used the herb Moxa, which is especially beneficial for blood. Small cones of dried Moxa are put on the skin over the acupuncture point and burnt slowly and briefly before I take them off again…. a much nicer experience than it sounds!  She stopped acupuncture after fifteen treatment sessions because her symptoms had nearly gone. She wasn’t yet ready to try and reduce her medication but she knew she could return if wanted to try this or if something triggered a flare up of the condition.


Moxa as the green herb and dried ready for use

Another patient had muscular pains and exhaustion that were much worse in the winter and were associated with episodes of low mood. She had a muzzy head, which she called ‘brain fog’, and her legs felt very heavy and sluggish. Once again I started with acupuncture to improve the circulation of Qi round the body and her pains improved, but they still got bad on cold wet days and she dreaded the approaching winter. In terms of Chinese medicine, this was because her body and mind were also affected by Cold and Damp. The poor circulation of Qi allowed Cold and Damp to seep into the body from outside, and also affected digestion and the normal warming mechanisms in the body so that Damp and Cold accumulated from inside. In health, Qi is clear and flowing and full of good energy, but where there is Damp it becomes sluggish, heavy, and loses vitality. Acupuncture to clear Damp and warm up the Cold takes a bit of time to work, but gradually her energy returned, her legs felt lighter and her head cleared. She learned to help herself by keeping her feet warm and eating a healthy diet.

Each person who comes to see me with the label of ‘fibromyalgia’ has a different personal history and approach to life, and always needs diagnosing and treating as an individual. But for me, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia is one that inspires me with hope – once I can get that Qi circulating round smoothly there is no reason not to expect big changes for the better.

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Avoid coughs, colds and virus infections – strengthen your Wei Qi!

Don’t you just hate getting a bad cough, cold or ‘flu – like illness …. it is always so much worse than we imagine! And if we get them frequently it can make us really unwell and unable to get on with life. Chinese medicine has a wealth of advice on how to avoid these common air-borne infections and helps to answer our ‘Why me?’, ‘Why now?’ questions. Ancient Chinese explanations may sound strange, but you will find that the basic ideas fit well with our personal experiences and knowledge. Instead of ‘immune system’, Chinese medicine talks about ‘Wei Qi’, and instead of ‘virus’ it describes an invasion of ‘Wind’.

Thousands of years ago there was no way of seeing viruses and bacteria, but Chinese doctors knew that some illnesses were caused by an invasion of pathogenic factors and they called these Wind, Cold, Heat and Damp (the capital letter indicates the word is being used with its Chinese meaning). Wind, which includes all the air around us, can take Cold into the body. The back of the neck and upper back are especially vulnerable to entry of Cold, so it is important to keep your neck warm with a scarf in cold and/or windy weather or if you are in a cold draught. Wearing warm and waterproof clothes in the winter may not be very fashionable, but Chinese medicine tells us they are important for keeping well. What a good excuse for a fun shopping spree!

woman dressed up warm

Once in the body, Wind, Cold and Damp block the free circulation of Qi and this causes coughs and sneezes and lots of mucous (Damp) in the nose, sinus and lungs. Blocked Qi can also produce Heat, which you may feel as a fever.

However, our bodies don’t always allow this invasion of Wind etc. – sometimes we ‘go down’ with a cold and other times we get away with it. This is because we have an inbuilt defence system called Wei Qi. Wei Qi circulates round the body just under the skin and when it is strong it will protect the body from an invasion (or infection). To keep our Wei Qi strong we need good food and rest, and good air to breathe. We also need to have our spirits raised by relationships with others and some sources of enjoyment and meaning in life. You have probably experienced getting ill when you are especially overworked, stressed or unhappy – in these situations you may need some extra help to strengthen your Wei Qi.

A course of acupuncture can be excellent for strengthening Wei Qi – or in modern terms for strengthening the immune system. As an acupuncture practitioner I would need to ask you for full details of your past and present health problems and your current life situation, so that I can decide which aspect(s) of your Qi to focus on. If you like to take an active part in treatment, we can also discuss other things that you can do to help yourself. Acupuncture treatment will need to be individualised for each person, and for this particular situation. Drugs such as antibiotics may be an important short-term treatment, and one that can be used at the same time as acupuncture, but for a long-term solution it is important to strengthen Qi and get it into balance.

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Keeping our energy levels up

Have you ever wondered why some people have more life energy than others? Why some people can go, go, go all day their whole lives and others struggle to make it day to day? The following explanation, based on the theories of Chinese Medicine, came to me from Kathryn Komidar & Bill Ryan of Toward Harmony Tai Chi & Qigong ( ). I particularly like how they have included the importance of our relationships with other people. Acupuncture can be very good at increasing energy levels, especially when it is combined with the self-help ideas outlined below.

According to Chinese thinking, each of us has two major sources of life energy that we draw on to get us through our days and our lives.

The first source of energy is what the Chinese call “prebirth energy.” This is the storehouse of energy that you are born with, that you come into the world having. Some people are born with great storehouses. Others come in with next to nothing. In the United States, those with a lot of prebirth energy would be known as people with strong constitutions; they live their whole lives doing whatever they like whenever they like and never slow down until they die.  Those with only a little prebirth energy are considered to have weak constitutions; they struggle their whole lives with illness and injury.

 The second major source of energy for us is what the Chinese call “postbirth energy.” This is energy that you gather after you are born, which supplements and can even strengthen your prebirth energy.  You can gain postbirth energy from a number of sources, including the food you eat, the earth under your feet, the heavens above you, large natural sources of energy around you – such as large trees, lakes, oceans, and mountains – and other people. Food is a very important source. You want to eat food that not only is nutritionally good for you, but that is also very much alive. This is one reason why we are drawn to food that is very fresh, whether it is freshly picked, caught, or hunted.

summer cherries _for energy blog

We constantly exchange energy with the earth, the heavens, oceans, large trees, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc. Since many of us have just returned from vacations near the ocean or in the woods or mountains, we know how rejuvenating it can be to spend time in such settings. This doesn’t come about just because we slow down and are less stressed (although that helps). In such settings we open ourselves to the natural energies around us, and we literally breathe and soak them into our bodies. This does not occur when we are surrounded by concrete, plastic, electric lights, pollution, and noise. In such settings, our bodies close off to or are closed off from what’s around us.

Many people gain energy from being with other people. It’s very natural for people to exchange energy as they interact. Some people are “electrifying” to be around; others are “draining.”

With regard to your everyday life, your prebirth energy is like your savings account and your postbirth energy is like your checking (current) account. With either account it’s better to be gathering more than you expend. Yet some people have such a large prebirth account that they never have to worry about overdrawing their postbirth account. They can always draw on their prebirth savings.  Those with no prebirth account must always be extra careful that they spend no more postbirth energy than they bring in. How they live their daily lives is very important. Even those with large prebirth accounts doneed to be careful. Have you ever known or heard of someone with a strong constitutionwho had a very serious accident and never quite recovered to be what they once were? From a life energy perspective, in order to survive and recover from their accident they had to draw down their whole prebirth account.

 Once you become aware of and begin to think about the sources of your life energy, then you can become more conscious about how you manage your accounts. You can monitor both intake and outflow. In particular, track whether you are getting enough sleep. Sleep is the time of day when

most of us relax deeply and most easily receive and absorb energy from the environment. Also track what foods you eat, how much time you spend outdoors, how much time you spend with what types of people, etc. For example, when you exercise do you take in more energy than you expend? When you walk, do you try to connect to the earth and the heavens? When you work, do you constantly put out without ever taking in energy from one or more of the sources we’ve discussed?  In other words, are you drawing on your reserves in order to get things done?

For the next two weeks try to be conscious of your energy inflows and outflows. As you plan your days note whether each thing you do will take or give you energy. And at the end of each day before you go to sleep, do an accounting of what you did. Which activities gave you life energy? Which activities took it away? This simple monitoring practice may help lead you toward important changes in your life that can bring you more energy for life.

Enjoy.    Kathryn Komidar & Bill Ryan

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Acupuncture and depression: ‘Gate of Hope’

The acupuncture point Qimen, translated as ‘Gate of Hope’, is an example of an acupuncture point that may be especially useful for people with depression. However, depression – a state of persistent and severe low mood – is associated with many different causes and emotions. Chinese medicine does not have a category of ‘depression’ because it requires me to understand and treat the underlying patterns and emotional upsets on an individual basis. This individual approach of acupuncture is often very effective, and can, if necessary, be used alongside antidepressant medication.

gate of hope

Depression may follow the heartbreak, rejection and loneliness felt when an important relationship breaks down. It may be part of the weary frustration and hopelessness that can result from repeated disappointments, setbacks and failed plans. It may be part of the grief that follows the death of a close relative or friend; the loss of a home or job, or the shattering of future dreams and plans. It may be part of a severe anxiety state which makes life feel too difficult to bear. Or it may be the result of physical illness, especially severe anaemia. Each of these examples will require a different acupuncture treatment plan, which will become more personalised and refined as treatment proceeds.

A 50 year old patient, who I will call Jill, is an example of how I might treat someone with depression. She came for treatment after suffering a small stroke. She walked unsteadily and her hand was weak, but most importantly her spirits were very low. She cried a lot, had daydreams of death and dying, and was very tired. This depression required acupuncture treatment on several levels. I needed to treat her grief and morbid thoughts, which related to the loss of her former healthy self. This required me to treat her Metal element and included such points as Cloud Gate (Yun Men). The name suggests it helps to open a gate through the grey clouds to find inspiration and light from above. I also needed to relieve some of her frustration and irritation caused by her partial loss of independence and mobility. This required me to regulate her Wood element in order to get her Qi to move freely round her body and mind. I included points such as Root of the Spirit (Ben Shen), which roots the Qi and stops it from rising up to make someone feel irritated and ‘hot under the collar’. At a more basic physical level her stroke and medication had weakened her Qi and Blood generally, so strengthening them would help everything else to improve. After four treatments, her depression began to shift and hope started to return. Then I could add some acupuncture points to help strengthen her leg and hand muscles – to work alongside the exercise she was doing. Improvement was slow, but once hope returned than her life could begin to improve.

Often, the cause of the depression is less clear cut. But by improving the circulation of Qi and Blood and strengthening the person’s constitution there is a shift from the dark stuck place of depression to one where life’s problems become clearer and more open to change. Chinese medicine is especially useful at helping someone at the mental and spiritual level. Treatment at the level of the spirit, aims to help you (re)find your authentic self and the pathway to your natural place in the world. Here you can begin to find ways to fulfil your own potential. Depression is all about feeling stuck and sinking. Each of us has our own unique way forward, which we can explore step by step. Acupuncture is a good way to start taking those first steps.


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Numb hands or feet – successful treatment with acupuncture

If you suffer from a lack of feeling in the hands or feet, like a numbness, you will know how unpleasant and disabling it can be. Although Chinese medicine and acupuncture does not always help these symptoms, I have recently had considerable success in treating two men with numb hands and feet. Western medicine often labels longstanding numbness such as this as peripheral neuropathy, but may it offer little in the way of treatment. Using Chinese medicine I must first look at the whole picture of an individual’s health and illness and seek the underlying cause. Numbness usually indicates that Qi and Blood are not circulating freely in that area – once this is restored, then feeling will return. There are several causes for this reduced circulation, one of which is a weakness of the Blood.


Both of these patients were men in their 60s, and both were in other ways fit and active. The first patient had numbness in both feet, especially the soles of the feet, which was affecting his walking. He walked unsteadily, especially when the ground was uneven, because he couldn’t clearly feel the ground under his feet. The problem started several years ago after a back operation for a bad slipped disc. The operation had left him with some pain and weakness in one leg, which had improved slowly with acupuncture and daily exercises. But it was not until I started strengthening his Blood that the numb feeling quite quickly reduced. Once his Blood was stronger, then the circulation of Blood and Qi improved.

The other patient had numbness in his hands which was gradually getting worse. It was much worse after sustained use of the hand, such as with gardening or computer work. To start with I thought circulation of Blood and Qi was poor because of his chronic shoulder problems. However, although his shoulder pains improved with acupuncture, the numbness was getting worse. Once again it was a strong treatment to strengthen his Blood that made the big improvement to his numbness. The numbness was worse after using his arm muscles, because this use required stronger Blood than his body could provide.

When we use terms such as Blood, Liver, Heart etc in Chinese medicine, we are not talking about quite the same things as within Western Medicine. We use a capital letter to show we are talking in Chinese medicine terms. In Chinese medicine, Blood refers to a wider system of circulation and energy and is connected to the Liver as well as the Heart. Interestingly, in terms of the Five Elements, both of these men were constitutionally connected to the Wood Element. The Wood Element has a particular role to play in circulating Qi smoothly around the body, so this potential weakness in Wood probably contributed to the poor circulation of Qi and Blood.

Yes, this does get a bit complicated! It may sometimes take a little while, but Chinese medicine is very useful for unraveling and treating complex problems

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