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5 questions

Q:.I went for my first acupuncture session today for severe anxiety and depression. Found it quite relaxing and after the pins were taken out she  inserted 3 tiny needles with a flat top into my wrist on my  forearm, the other arm and one into middle of my chest and told me to keep them in till my next session in a week. Is this normal? She says it will really help but I'm a bit paranoid about it.   I have googled this and haven't come across anybody who has had this done.  Maybe it's just my anxiety playing up again.

A:  These needles are called press needles or press stud needles, and as you can see if you type 'press stud acupuncture needle' into Amazon, they are freely available. They are used more often than not in Japanese styles of acupuncture, but over time their benefit as a gentle continuation of treatment has seen their use extended into the mainstream. They are also commonly used in ear acupuncture.

The BAcC has published guidelines for its members which strongly recommend that a patient is given clear instructions about what to do if one of them detaches. Most of them come with small adhesive patches to hold them in place but our experience is that these are not usually shower-proof or sport-proof, and where they are used the practitioner often has to make a professional judgement about the likelihood that a patient will be able to keep them in place for a reasonable length of time. This can be a dilemma; children respond very well to gentle techniques like this but are the last people you could feel confident would lead a sedate life.

There are also a number of safety concerns about the use of retained needles of any kind, mainly to do with an increased risk of certain kinds of infection in patients who have had replacement heart valves or a history of certain types of heart disease. However, a practitioner will be aware of this sort of detail from the case history they took at the outset of treatment.

In summary, there is no reason to have any qualms about the use of these needles as a way of helping with your problems as long as they are securely held in place. If one does accidentally detach, it is probably best to keep it in a sealed container and hand it back to the practitioner for disposal in a sharps box.

Q:  Have you ever heard of accupuncture being used for core back pain with needles placed down both sides of middle of spine (in muscles). I have had acupressure before for the same problen but pressure points were used in different areas B phoenix.

A: Indeed we have! There are a number of channels on the back on which the points lie, as can be seen in this diagram,

and a practititioner may very well use some of these in the treatment of back pain. As well as the traditional points, there is also a line of points closer to the spine itself called the Huatojiaji points which were commonly used in what was called 'barefoot doctor' treatment. These are nearly always supplemented with distal points on the arms and legs, and as you know from your experience of acupressure, these are often used as a front line treatment.


A great deal depends on how deep the problems are and how intense the discomfort in the affected area. There are occasions when treating the area directly can be too much for the patient, and a more indirect approach is more advisable. 



Q:  I have a really nasty trigger point in one of my scalene muscles. I'm a physio myself and I have tried treating it with many techniques but nothing I try seems to help. When it's aggravated (usually by faulty breathing patterns and stress) it causes excruciating and nauseating pain mainly down the medial border of my scapula and has been a problem for years.

I know acupuncture can be an effective way of treating trigger points but I wonder if it would be of any help for a scalene trigger point given the difficulty in locating it in amoungst the other vital structures in the neck.   Is acupuncture an option for me or should I look for a different treatment?

A:  A very nicely technical question! Trigger point acupuncture is usually associated with western medical acupuncture where it remains one of the primary modes of intervention. Although many of the trigger points equate directly to Chinese acupuncture points, it would be unusual for a Chinese medicine practitioner to use points as vigorously, although some undoubtedly do. There are similar points in Chinese medicine, called Ah Shi points, which are located by palpation (it literally means 'it hurts here') and needled to disperse local stagnation and blockage.

 However, the strength of Chinese medicine lies in its theories of interconnection and action at a distance, and it is not uncommon in cases like yours for the treatment to be a mixture of local and distal points which lie on the same channel through a knotted area or point. Quite often the local needles are used very gently as well; there is a school of thought that jamming a needle hard into a knotted area simply makes it even more uncomfortable, and Japanese acupuncture practice, for example uses very gentle superficial needling to effect some very profound changes.




The short answer, then, is that we think it is worth a go, but probably only a couple of treatments, given that you have been working on yourself already without success. If this does not work we wonder whether cranial osteopathy may not be a good technique to explore. Although it is at the slightly more outre end of the complementary medicine spectrum we have also had several patients who have used Bowen Technique for similar problems, although we are aware that there is considerable scepticism about its theoretical basis. Patients are less interested in this than in what works, though, and we have had a number who have used this therapy to good effect. 


Q:  I'm 16 and would like to get some piercings in the ear (one rim on the right ear and one scaffold on the left). Obviously, I'm concerned about the acupuncture points in the ear. Is it safe ? I've contacted the piercer who told me that "It might cause an interference once pierced but it is only temporary.  Your body will heal and re-route and restore meridian points to make up for damage so that you can function normally". Is it true ?

A: This is an extremely good question! Unfortunately, we do not have a precise answer, partly because ear/auricular acupuncture is not central to the traditional acupuncture lineage, having been developed more in Europe over the last fifty years on the basis of points used occasionally in traditional treatment.
The generally received wisdom is that in the vast majority of cases there is no problem arising from ear piercings. However, it would be very difficult to gather meaningful information because we would only rarely see people who had either just had ear piercings or were in the middle of a course of treatment and had their ears pierced. The usual professional view is that there may be a short term affect because of the formation of scar tissue around the piercing site, but this would only be short term as the energies re-route around the hole. Since the piercing is complete, i.e. from side to side, there is no likelihood of there being a constant stimulus from an earring or stud. We find the same with body piercings like navel studs; there is no evidence suggesting that this is causing a continuing energetic reaction.
You would be well advised, however, to address this question to the Society of Auricular Acupuncturists whose members specialise in ear acupuncture and may have had to field this question many more times than we have. They can be contacted at

It isn't totally clear from your question what you need to know. We suspect that you are asking which pressure points to use for specific problems, and if that is the case I'm sorry to say that we can't really help you. Although there are acupuncture points which can be used as acupressure points for temporary relief of problems, our members are trained to ensure that in dealing with specific symptoms they see these against a backdrop of the whole picture of someone's health. Treating a problem without doing this could mean turning off an important alarm bell without finding out what the underlying issue is.


It is always best to see a qualified professional first to ensure that there is nothing significant which needs to be addressed. If they then gave you advice on how to self-treat to maintain progress, that would be preferable.

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