‘Long car journeys were a nightmare but acupuncture has given me new freedom’

Ancient Chinese medicine practice used to relieve symptoms of a range of conditions

Anna Ryan was nearly confined to her home before she was able to benefit from acupuncture treatment for her condition. Photo: James Connolly

Eilish O'Regan

Anna Ryan was virtually confined to her home due to severe incontinence when she went to see her consultant last October.

Any significant journey from her home near Enniscrone, Co Sligo, meant frequent stops due to having to go to the toilet.

However, her life changed markedly since that doctor’s visit after being referred for acupuncture.

She is among many who have turned to the treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine, where fine needles are inserted at certain sites in the body for therapeutic or preventative purposes.

“I started going twice a week and then weekly. Within five to six weeks, I saw a significant improvement,” said Ms Ryan. She was speaking of the benefits of the treatment to mark Acupuncture Awareness Week.

She is attending Sylvia Nagle in Castlebar, Co Mayo – an acupuncturist who is also a qualified physiotherapist.

She described how going on a motorway had been a “nightmare” because of the lack of stop-off toilet facilities. However, Ms Ryan has won back much of her freedom since she progressed with acupuncture and she has driven to Galway without a problem.

Ms Nagle, who has a particular interest in treating people who have overactive bladders and urgency, described how the acupuncture needles are placed on the body at acupuncture points.

The needles used are very fine, single-use, pre-sterilised needles that are disposed of immediately after use.

It is thought to involve the release of the body’s innate ‘happy’ chemicals – endorphins

Acupuncture is used to mainly relieve discomfort associated with a variety of conditions associated with pain. It is already used in NHS GP surgeries, as well as in pain clinics and hospices across the UK.

It is not exactly clear how it eases pain but it is thought to involve the release of the body’s innate ‘happy’ chemicals – endorphins – plus increases in blood flow to local skin and muscle.

The NHS has said it is likely that these naturally released substances are responsible for the beneficial effects experienced with acupuncture.

Ms Nagle said she would like the HSE to follow the lead of the NHS and provide it as a treatment for suitable patients in the public system here.

"I would like to gather all the evidence around acupuncture,” she said. “It is already covered by the main private health insurance companies operating here.”

The Acupuncture Council of Ireland is responsible for the regulation and maintenance of the register of acupuncturists in this country.

Only suitably qualified and insured acupuncturists can become members and they are bound by a code of ethics and practice which aims to offer the patients confidence in seeking treatment.