It often happens that health issues flare up at the turn of the seasons. You might be out walking in one of London’s parks, maybe Regent’s Park, Hyde Park or Hampstead Heath, enjoying the autumnal colours. Suddenly you notice you are sniffing more than usual, trying to fight off a cold. Or you might be sitting in the office and notice that more than a few people are coughing or sneezing. This can be especially annoying when travelling on the London Underground. It’s never a great start to the day to be standing packed into a carriage on the Northern Line on your way into work with people coughing and sniffing the whole journey.
For Londoners working outdoors the change in season can be felt particularly strongly. Jim came into the clinic with some typical problems. He had been working on a big construction project in the City of London and had a history of chronic back pain. Being high up on the skeleton of a skyscraper in Farringdon leaves you vulnerable to attacks of wind, cold and damp. His lower back had gone again so he came in for some acupuncture. He also had the beginnings of a head cold.
Moxa is a great way to help relieve some of the cold and pain in a locked up lower back. After some work to find the sore spots, we put some needles in, placed some moxa on the handle of each needle and set light to it. Moxa is made from the fine plant hairs found on the underside of the leaf of the mugwort plant (related plants can be found along many of London’s canal paths, scrublands and overgrown places). It is used to bring heat into an area of cold, and the warmth increases the body’s awareness of that area too. Moxa is used often during an acupuncture treatment, and if you go into any acupuncture clinic in London, you are likely to experience the typical pungent smell of moxa at some point. Many people find the smell of moxa to be very relaxing, which adds to the overall experience of the acupuncture treatment.
As the warmth of the moxa started to spread through his lower back, Jim started to feel some relief from the pain. As the moxa is attached to the end of the acupuncture needles, it can be applied with the patient lying down or sitting up. Because Jim had the start of a head cold, it made sense in this case for him to be sitting up on the edge of the treatment couch. In this position, we could readily do some acupressure and acupuncture on some key points around his head. Some long slow massage strokes down the back of the head and past the shoulders helps to create a downward movement of energy in the body. Pinching and massaging the strong acupuncture points at the base of the skull also helps to release trapped wind and cold from that area. Jim works a lot with his upper body, so he had quite a lot of tight spots in the upper back and shoulders which we could also needle and release with acupuncture. Some massage around the forehead helped to clear some of the damp energy gathering in his head. If it’s caught early, wind and cold can be effectively treated with a combination of acupuncture, acupressure and moxa.
Office based work in London can lead to a number of common physical health complaints that build up over time. Tight necks and shoulders, back problems and varying degrees of repetitive strain due to endless mouse movements are all very common. Jenny was a typical example. She came into the acupuncture clinic with a number of common physical ailments. She worked as an architect in a company based in Fitzrovia and had recently developed RSI in her right arm due to working long hours on a difficult project. Her neck and shoulders were chronically tight, and would occasionally lead to tension headaches if her stress levels were high. If this happened she would also experience some tinnitus in her right ear. She had problems with acid reflux, which also seemed stress related.
The chronic pain in her neck and shoulders had come about a few years ago as a result of a bicycle accident when cycling to Fitzrovia from her flat in Dalston. A pedestrian had stepped out into the road near UCL in Bloomsbury and she didn’t have enough time to react. Luckily she was quite close to University College Hospital near Warren Street so she was able to get to the Accident and Emergency department, which found no major breaks. However, her system had been given a shock so the initial impact had led to the formation of patterns of tension in her shoulders, scapulae and the upper middle back area.
To begin with, she recovered quite well but then after a few months of busy projects at work, she noticed that her neck and shoulders would get quite stiff after a long day. She was not aware that her bad posture at work had contributed to the initial tension patterns getting worse. Leaning forward over her desk, or slumping at her computer meant that after some time her neck and shoulders became chronically locked. Headaches started to become a more common occurrence for her too.
When she came in to the acupuncture clinic, we found some very clear tight spots of pain in a number of locations. She had tight spots at the occiput (base of the skull), on her shoulder, all round the shoulder blade and in a line close to the spine on the right hand side. We talked to her about posture, and pointed out that if she was tensing through the back and letting the front slump, it might end up compressing the top of the stomach and leading to acid reflux. It was suggested that she spend some time each day focusing on maintaining a good upright posture to help lengthen the front while relaxing the back.
For the acupuncture itself, we decided to needle the tight spots to try and release the tension that had built up there. With the acupuncture treatment, we were looking to create a deep throbbing sensation in the tight areas that had become so contracted that no blood could flow into them. The deep throbbing sensation that can be experienced when needling these points implies that blood flow is returning. The increased blood flow helps the contraction to be released. To finish the treatment, we massaged the area to minimize any remaining soreness. Within three acupuncture sessions, the RSI had gone and the neck and shoulders were markedly more relaxed. The headaches and tinnitus were a thing of the past. In addition, her improved posture meant that the acid reflux was also under control.