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MH Investigates: Can Acupuncture Take The Sting Out Of Pain?
Acupuncture, the nails-on-a-chalkboard method of inserting needles into your skin to alleviate stress, could be far more effective than previously thought.
That's according to trials at four hospitals in Melbourne, which found that acupuncture could offer better pain relief than drugs for patients with varying levels of injuries.
To put it to the test, MH deployed a lab rat — a writer and a self-confessed frazzled office worker — to see if acupuncture is worth the pain after all.
Lab rat profile
Name:Ian Taylor, 31
Job:Writer, frazzled office worker
Challenge:Use needles to cure the Sunday blues
Claim:Piercing body parts will burst anxiety
The problem with stress is not the lack of sleep. It’s not the 13-hour days or the fact that you see the till girl in Pret more than your partner. The real killer is the white noise between your ears, that balloon inflating in your ribcage. They suspend logic, cripple productivity and trigger a spiralling shitstorm that only makes the office hours longer and sleep more elusive.
A potential solution hit me right between the eyes on a Sunday in south London, when Mark Kiely inserted a needle just above my nose. I’m fine with needles – even when they’re aimed at my face – and the scratch reminded me of giving blood. Then 11 more followed: one just beyond my hairline, one in each arm, one in each knee, the rest in my feet. It’s hard to feel blissfully free of worry with 12 needles sticking out of you, but there is theory in the piercing. Practitioners claim that acupuncture is effective for a mind-boggling range of health issues: back pain, tension headaches, infertility, tennis elbow, Parkinson’s and, of course, stress. The traditional view is that illness occurs when the flow of ‘qi’, your body’s ‘vital energy’, is disrupted. Acupuncture restores this. To me, it sounds like mystical BS with no real grounding in western medicine. However, tantalising new research suggests that acupuncture is more than simply a placebo dressed up as a miracle cure. The NHS clearly agrees: it currently spends £25m a year on the treatment.
Kiely explained to me why he targeted the points he did. “I use points on the feet [for stress],” he said. “I am trying to clear excess energy from the head, which is forming dysfunctional thought patterns. I want to pull this negative energy down so that it can work for you, for example in your circulatory, digestive or immune systems.”
He removes the needles after 20 minutes and sends me on my way. Later that evening I feel lighter, looser and free of the usual Sunday night blues. I’m aware of the mound of work waiting for me but for the first time in a while, I feel oddly detached from it. Maybe acupuncture is a placebo. Or perhaps I just happened to catch a particularly engrossing episode ofHomeland. But whatever’s responsible, an injection of calm and the first deep sleep I’ve had in weeks is a welcome relief.
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