December 2013 Acupuncture , Chinese medicine studies


By Clive Lindley-Jones | December 4, 2013 3:56 pm

2013 started for me with my journey examining and lecturing in East Asia, which I wrote about in our February blog here. followed by more of the same later in April in Australia,  which appeared in May here and we end the travelling year with an account from Andy Roscoe, our  long time resident Acupuncturist, on what it is like studying Chinese medicine in its homeland of China. Well you cannot say we don’t try and make things international and  interesting!

This year in Helix House we have had several staff changes on the desk, with Blanche and Kate joining us in the summer and in the consulting room with Sara Barker Osteopath and Acupuncturist joining us this autumn. Life continues to be interesting and rewarding doing what we love to do, which is help others to the best health that they can achieve.

Thanks again for putting your trust in us and we all wish you a very Happy Christmas and Healthy New Year and look forward to seeing you and your friends in 2014

With all good wishes from us all,

Clive Lindley-Jones

Christmas gathering with Clive, Kerstin, Blanche, Sara, Andy, Ales and Sarah, sorry to miss Susan and Kate who couldn't make it.

Christmas gathering with Clive, Kerstin, Blanche, Sara, Andy, Ales and Sarah, sorry to miss Susan and Kate!

Please rememeber, we will be open up to and including December 23rd and then open again in the new year.

Now for Andy’s Chinese adventures…

Hi everyone. I was recently in Guangzhou in south eastern China on a two week acupuncture study tour. We were based in an acupuncture hospital which also had western medicine, in the middle of a city of 12 million people. I would like to describe the things we saw in the hospital and outside to give you a flavour of complementary health and life in general in Guangzhou.

The hospital was a bit smaller than the John Radcliffe in Oxford and I went with a group of 15 acupuncturists observing various doctors in their surgeries. It was like being in the outpatients wing of the JR as people turned up all through the day and waited to be seen.

In the treatment rooms there were anything from 4-10 beds and couches and everyone got treated together. They payed £10 per treatment of which £9 was paid by their compulsory insurance. Given that average salaries are about ¼  of those in England this probably compares with the £40 average cost of a session in UK albeit most of it was covered by insurance. Consequently many patients could afford to come in every day.

The hospital specialised in treating people with paralysis of the face (Bells Palsy and other similar problems), neck spondylitis, back pain and various other pains. A lot of patients had chronic serious problems.

Most of the patients had needles, anything up to 40 needles at a time, inserted in under 2 minutes! You may be grateful that this is not what we do in the west as a rule! Prior to the needles many would also have cupping which is the use of suction cups on the skin to move blood below. After the needles were in most would also have electro attached to the needles for further stimulation. A lot also had tuina which is like strong massage and in some cases like osteopathy as they reset bones. Again, this could be vigorous and not for the faint hearted! Overall it was clear that intervention was far more physical than your average session at Helix House!

The hospital and adjacent multi storey highway

Five mins walk from the hospital. Unusual in Chinese cities to have mountains and water so close.

Typical scene in communal treatment room

Two year old cerebral palsy with approx 40 needles in her!

One thing that is different here is that the acupuncturists can also choose to train in tuina (another year of training on top of 5 years acupuncture training) which is very similar to osteopathy as it includes bone manipulation as well as all the deep tissue massage. The doctors were surprised that the two disciplines are separate in the UK.

As I said earlier, the hospital specialises in chronic serious conditions. For example we saw some young children being treated with acupuncture. Both were premature births. In one a young girl had misformed feet and ice cold legs. She had had operations on her feet to reshape them (in another part of the hospital – how good it is to have integrated medicine) and now she was getting acupuncture to connect up the lower body again. In the other a young boy could not speak and was essentially autistic. In amongst all the kisses and hugs he kept giving us he was given acupuncture to help him speak again, and had two words he could now say.

We also saw amazing care given to these children by both parents and doctors and wonder how much this reflected the ‘one child ‘ policy and the preciousness of the only child.

Recently the one child policy has been relaxed in so far as a single child marrying another single child are now allowed to have two children of their own. This is however probably driven by the need to have more children around to look after the elderly rather than sympathy for young Chinese couples!

Patients often get cupping before acupuncture to take out cold and move the energy.

Most patients get electro-acupuncture as well as cupping which leaves red and purple bruising

Whilst in Guangzhou we also had the chance to explore the surrounding area in the Pearl River delta which connects the city to the sea and Hong Kong. This is the agricultural heartlands of the Cantonese speaking people and from where most Chinese have emigrated over the centuries.

We are travelled south to the historic towns of Kaiping and Chikan through mile after mile of vegetable and fish farms – a bit like the south of Spain but without the plastic sheeting!

As you may know China has been undergoing the most rapid urbanization of any country since the industrial revolution, creating urban areas the size of Birmingham every six months!

In amongst the farms we saw huge residential construction, every tower block at least 30 storeys high.

Pearl River delta residential developments

About 60 miles from Guangzhou we visited the Seven Star Crags – limestone hills around a lake. This is now a place where 4 million people live. A bit like Lake Windermere being surrounded by 4 million people!

The Seven Star Crags from ground level

The tower blocks around the crags seen from higher up

Reflecting on the first week in the hospital, the main impression was of relentless demand for medical help. This is mainly due to the population explosion in the city from 3 million in 1980’s to 12 million now. In this context there simply isn’t time to do individual consultations notwithstanding that it is fairly normal to have treatments in shared space in most of China.

The top professors here are seeing on average 70 people a day, 5 days per week. And they are working 9-5pm with a 2 hour lunch break which are not long days by UK standards.

We have seen a huge amount of stroke patients as well as lots of neck pain types. These seem the main specialisations here. It is very rare for an acupuncturist to be the first port of call for a stroke patient in UK. Here they treat these people with western medicine for the first 3 days and then refer them for acupuncture.

The advantage of this is that they use acupuncture to encourage blood and energy to keep flowing through the affected area once they have stabilized the patient. In UK we would be unlikely to see stroke patients within the first month of occurrence.

As always it is fascinating to see the two systems of medicine side by side. There is no attempt by the acupuncture doctors here to claim superiority.

Finally on a slightly humorous note we have also observed the adroitness of the doctors putting needles in with one hand , on the phone with the other, directing photographs every few minutes, and all the time there is a patient below with a serious problem who sometimes is also on their phone!

With Dr Qin the ‘Flying Needle Doctor’

Getting walked over by the Chinese…

You may be interested in some of the cultural differences we have noticed…

When we walk into a restaurant our guide will shout at the waiter to find us a table and then shout again for food and tea. No please and thankyou. But then it is considered rude if you don’t wash your cup, bowl and chopsticks before you eat. When you eat it is also ok to talk and eat at the same time and it doesn’t matter what falls out of your mouth!

It is also common to have Chinese youths want to have a picture taken with you, and they get in really close head to head as if you were a family member. No concept of English personal space here!

In the shops the clothes have obscure English slogans on them or American brand names. It is cool here to have a European or American style. Meanwhile back in the Uk it is cool to have a tatoo with a Chinese character on it…

Meanwhile our clinical observations continue in their strange and wonderful ways. We have seen patients hung upside down by their feet on an inversion board. Once vertical they are swung about to increase back mobility and some have had low back manipulation at the same time. This would be considered dangerous in UK I think.

In the acupuncture department we have seen patients getting a red hot needle lightly touching the skin to remove cold from their bodies. There are no marks left on the skin from this. But with moxa treatments (a smouldering herb left on the skin) they do let it burn the skin and it leaves a scar. I have enclosed a picture below of this.

There is generally an obsession here with getting rid of cold and this has puzzled me given the subtropical climate in these areas. The answer however is that a lot of it is down to huge numbers of workers sitting long hours in cold air conditioning, itself a necessity because of  the unpleasant muggy atmosphere caused by air pollution on top of the humid climate (itself exacerbated by rapid population growth).

Ironically the same problem was around  centuries ago when workers spent their days in cold damp fields and got pains in their joints. So there has been huge progress materially but same result!

The Pearl River at its best in Guangzhou

A little more on daily life in Guangzhou…

We start our days here with taichi in the park at 7am which is a daily ritual for many city dwellers. You grab your spot under the trees  and pretty soon you are surrounded by people doing sword dancing or fan fluttering or   kung fu type moves. We regularly get locals joining in with us, some with transitor radios on and small dog alongside. Average age seems over 50. We are an obvious oddity going about our business quietly and with proper English personal space around us!

There is a consistent awareness of the need for good exercise such as taichi and diet  advice in the hospital. Every department puts up big dietary posters which are changed each season as the Chinese medicine pays attention to changing seasonal energetics. Every patient can also get an individual dietary plan which addresses their specific complaint. I don’t think we do anything like this in UK hospitals.

There is of course the usual fast food on the streets, and whilst you can always get fried food there is also a lot of steamed food which is healthier. There are also intriguing and challenging options such as tortoise soup, toad casserole and deer antler and hoof pot.

One menu also had 3 kinds of snakes, or snake-three-ways as they say on Master Chef!

We continue to see integrated medicine in all departments.  We saw how patients in the respiratory recovery section could also have bee sting therapy which can counteract autoimmune diseases or treat allergies or joint problems. Small bees are placed on acupuncture points and the sting activates the body’s healing. Yes the bee dies…not considered an issue here given that anything with 4 legs except the table is eaten!

We saw diabetic patients receiving insulin and also Chinese herbal treatment. Some of these herbs are given as a foot steaming treatment as diabetics often get numb feet. I managed to sample one of these foot tubs – see picture below – with herbs that increase the blood circulation. Whilst I was doing this one of the in-patients brought me his sandals for afterwards. Didn’t feel it was right to ask for a cup of tea!

We saw young children getting tuina/acupressure for breathing problems – gentle but firm rubbing on places on the hands, arms and back. Those with asthma were getting steam nebulisers which blew a herbal concoction onto their face. They also had steroids as far as we could gather.

Finally we sat and practised our flying needle technique with one of the acupuncture  doctors. Safe to say I shall not be doing 40-50 needles in 2 minutes on patients anytime soon! But it is still amazing to watch a master in action, every needle put in like a dragon fly dipping to touch the water momentarily and the sensation for the patient virtually nothing despite the needle being one or more inches deep. Seeing is believing…and now it is time to say goodbye and hope you have enjoyed this small insight into Chinese life.

Herbal foot steamer at end of a hard day!

Taichi sessions for the masses

Taichi in smaller groups at the beginning of the day

Locals would often join in our taichi sessions