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Is Acupuncture Just Placebo Effect? Needling The Skin May Reduce Symptoms for Several Reasons

Over the past 10 years or so a great deal of research has been carried out into the effects of acupuncture. Some trials have suggested that acupuncture has a beneficial influence on certain conditions and symptoms and others have said the opposite. One of the problems has been that many research trials were of poor quality thus making it difficult to draw any firm conclusions – a fairly common occurrence in medical research.

Recent research has suggested that patients treated with traditional acupuncture for certain conditions improve and so do patients treated with sham acupuncture – where the needles were placed at random in the patient rather than at the classical points.

Here are two examples taken from the Cochrane Collaboration, a respected database of evidence based medicine.

The first is the analysis of a number of trials of acupuncture for preventing the recurrence of migraine. The conclusion was that both acupuncture and sham acupuncture helped prevent further attacks of migraine better than did standard medication. The Cochrane authors concluded that acupuncture may be useful in prevention of migraine but that the placement of the needles is not as important as acupuncturists believe.

The second example relates to the treatment of shoulder pain and stiffness. In a small study acupuncture and sham acupuncture together with exercise proved more effective than exercise alone.

Essentially the research is saying that sticking needles into patients helps ease their symptoms whether you put the needles in acupuncture points or not and that treating with needles is better than no treatment at all.

The Placebo Effect

The conclusion drawn is that acupuncture is acting as a placebo: the procedure makes the patient think he or she is going to get better and this positive attitude improves the symptoms. The placebo effect is known to be very powerful: it encourages healing no matter what the treatment whether it be drugs or surgery. There is much evidence that the mind, through its effects on hormones and the immune system has considerable effect on the body’s tissues.

Direct Effects of Acupuncture

There is also the possibility that acupuncture and sham acupuncture are having direct effects on the body through the micro-trauma they produce when piercing the skin. In this sense acupuncture is akin to traditional counter-irritation remedies like blistering, mustard or belladonna plasters – remedies once used on animals and humans.

The idea is that by causing a micro-injury to the skin (enough to cause irritation but not sufficient to cause serious damage), the body’s inflammation/immune mechanisms are stimulated. After at first causing a small amount of inflammation, the body’s healing processes are stimulated, mainly in the area local to the irritation, but possibly giving rise to body-wide effects as well.

Acupuncture and Trigger Points

An area in which acupuncture is frequently used is in the treatment of musculo-skeletal complaints like back and joint problems. Here the points needled are often trigger points rather than classical acupuncture points (although there is some overlap between the two) . Trigger points will respond to various stimuli in addition to needles such as cold spray, finger pressure and electrical stimulation.

It is easier to objectively demonstrate trigger points than it is classical acupuncture points. Active trigger points can be felt in muscles as a knot within a band of taut muscle fibres. The effects of trigger points have also been demonstrated electro-physiologically. So it’s likely that any reduction in symptoms brought about by the treatment of trigger points involves more than placebo.

More research on the use of needles in trigger points for musculo-skeletal conditions might yield less ambiguous results than do the studies involving classical acupuncture.

Canine Acupuncture and Dog Massage Techniques

Natural healing, complementary and alternative medicine are increasing in popularity both for humans and animals. Dogs may benefit from natural healing approaches, including various forms of acupuncture and massage.

What is Canine Acupuncture?

Canine acupuncture is basically the same as regular acupuncture, although acupuncture for dogs is carried out by a vet who is specially trained in this area. Before receiving acupuncture, your dog will undergo a full physical examination. During canine acupuncture, needles are inserted at specific points, which are able to alter energy flow. The treatment session may last up to a maximum of 30 minutes, should be painless and follow-up sessions will depend upon your dog’s health issues.

Five Different Types of Acupuncture for Dogs

There are several different types of acupuncture which may be used to help treat multiple health problems, such as arthritis, allergies, heart problems, kidney disease, digestive problems and respiratory illness. In The Everything Natural Health For Dogs Book, Gewirtz & Nuccio (2009) highlight five different types of acupuncture for dogs, to include the following:

  • electroacupuncture – electric current sent through acupuncture needles
  • laser acupuncture – infrared lasers stimulate pressure points
  • aquapuncture – saline solution of vitamin B12/distilled water
  • moxibustion – mugwort herb burned over acupuncture points
  • sonapuncture – ultrasound stimulates difficult to reach acupoints

While electroacupuncture may help dogs experiencing severe pain, laser acupuncture may benefit sensitive dogs and aquapuncture provides an alternative to using traditional acupuncture needles. A key advantage of using moxibustion is that it is particularly useful for treating with conditions requiring warming.

What are Dog Massage Techniques?

In addition to treating dogs with various types of canine acupuncture, massage is a popular way to help relieve muscle tension and boost circulation. Learning how to massage your dog will also make it easier when grooming is required and gets dogs used to touch. Key dog massage techniques, as identified by Gewirtz and Nuccio (2009), include as follows:

  • connective – medium to full depth, gently pushes into connective tissue
  • effleurage – light, gliding strokes, targets nervous system
  • petrissage – gently kneading/compressing, reduces muscle tension
  • skin lifting – lifting skin fold with fingers/thumb, helps sore joints
  • vibration – electric hand massager provides relaxing, high frequency waves

As highlighted above, two popular approaches to natural treatment for dogs, include canine acupuncture and dog massage. While canine acupuncture requires a trip to a specialist, dog massage skills can be learnt and used within the home. If you think your dog may benefit from either acupuncture or other alternative treatments, seek advice from your vet.

Life Coaching Steps to Success

Life Coaching offers a series of techniques that can help you to achieve a happier, more successful life, and it will also help you to improve your motivation and self discipline.

A Life Coach helps you to become clear about what you want and then, together, you draw up a plan of action to move you towards your goals. Many clients find that having to report their ongoing progress to a Life Coach helps them to feel more determined and motivated.

Life Coaching helps you to move from your present life towards your ideal life. Your Life Coaching sessions would probably follow a series of steps similar to those outlined below:

What are your Life Coaching Goals?

First, divide up your life up into a list of different areas such as: work, finance, family, friends, fitness, relationships and learning.

Next, select at least one clear goal for each of these areas. Your goals must be exciting enough to motivate and inspire you towards success. Perhaps, you would like to get a new job or to write a collection of poetry?

Imagine and write down your wishes in as much detail as possible to create a picture of your ideal life. Clarify your goals by asking yourself questions. What sort of poetry would you like to write? How much would you like to earn in your new job? The more questions you ask the more clarity you will achieve.

Where Are You Now?

Compare ‘where you are now’ to ‘where you want to be’. Lack of confidence or a poor self image can often prevent people from improving their lives. If this is the case then it is helpful to focus on positive events and experiences from your past and to connect these to your present and future experiences. Many Life Coaches use techniques based on NLP to help their clients to become more confident and to make positive changes to their thinking. Problems and obstacles can be overcome at this stage of the Life Coaching process.

What is your First Step to Success?

Break up your big, exciting goals into a series of smaller steps with a timescale for each one. If you are looking for a new job, then you may wish to start by updating your C.V. This step needs to be noted down with a date for completion. Having to produce such a clear, measurable result, for your Life Coach, helps you to move forwards and take that first step to success.

What is your Next Step to Success?

Once you have taken the first step towards a successful life, then pinpoint the next step. This step should also be noted down and given a timescale. Your Life Coach will then encourage you to take this second step and to report back to him/her.

Focus on the End Point

You need to see how the small steps are taking you towards your ultimate goals. Review your final outcomes daily and to visualise them clearly. Picture yourself at the point of success so that you can step into your future self and associate with the feelings that you are aiming to achieve. NLP techniques could help you to make these connections.

Your Life Coach will ask you to remember that a big journey is merely a series of small steps and he/she will help you to progress by asking you to report back after each step has been taken. Telling him/her what you want, and drawing up a concrete plan of action, might make success seem more real and achievable.

Can You Be Your Own Life Coach?

Some people believe that it is possible to become your own life coach and to motivate yourself by following the steps above, whilst others feel that they prefer to turn to a qualified, experienced Life Coach in order to help them along the way. Life Coaching can be quite expensive, but those who advocate it argue that it is money well spent if it helps them to achieve their dreams.

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