Tension Headaches

I can honestly say I’ve never seen so many people in the acupuncture clinic presenting with tension headaches as I have in 2019 – between 2-3 week throughout the year. It’s something I love working with, mainly because these headaches can cause so much misery and yet they can be relieved pretty simply.

There is no one exact cause of tension headaches yet there are circumstances that seem to play a part. From experience I think there needs to be 2-3 triggers in place and then they combine creating pain, tightness and aching in the head, eyes and neck.

Firstly there is nearly always some degree of soft tissue tension – the muscles in the upper back and neck nearly always feel tight and tender in people suffering from tension headaches. It can be related to posture – working at a computer all day, long distance driving, carrying heavy loads (like children) and pregnancy for example.

Secondly a whole array of underlying triggers can then play a part. The most common I see is mental and emotional stress, say a difficult situation at work or a recent personal loss. Lack of sleep is another huge factor and I often see new mums and other sleep deprived people complaining of headaches. Skipping meals, dehydration and a lack of physical exercise also seem to play a part.

In my clinic I use cupping, tuina and acupuncture to help relieve tension headaches. Sliding cupping gently with oil on the upper back is great for stiff achy muscles. Tuina is great for getting into those tricky spots – where it might not be safe to use needles or where it can be difficult to insert effectively. Finally acupuncture – on the upper back, the neck and around the body with the aim to relax local muscles and also the entire person.

If you are suffering with headaches remember to speak with your GP if any of the following apply:

  • A sudden new headache – fixed in location or with accompanying nausea or vomiting
  • Any headache with an extremely stiff neck or fever
  • Any headache with confusion, slurred speech or numbess
  • A headache that starts following a blow or knock to the head

Tension headaches can also be related to your eyes. If you are experiencing headaches I’d always recommend getting your eyes checked. You can book in for a check up at most high street opticians.

NICE guidelines state that a course of acupuncture may be beneficial in preventing tension type headaches. You can also speak with your GP to discuss alternative options. Want to try acupuncture? You can book yourself in here online at my Norwich city centre clinic. Remember – check your acupuncturists qualification!

Sciatica and Acupuncture

Many of us refer to the ache or discomfort down our legs as ‘sciatica’ – and we’re probably right. The sciatica nerve runs from the lower back L4,L5,S1, S2 and S3, spreading out downwards through the buttocks into the leg. Any compression on this nerve can lead to all sorts of sensations in the bottom and leg and again these can range from agonising to a mild ache. Want to see a great image of the actual sciatic nerve location – click here.

If we are using the meridians to map the pain felt in sciatica we usually look to either the Bladder meridian or the Gall Bladder meridian. The Bladder meridian runs straight down the back either side of the spine and then mainly down the posterior aspect of the leg ending in the outer side of the foot. So for sciatica that seems originate in the lower back and travel down the back of the leg or towards the back of the knee we tend to choose points on on the Bladder channel.

For sciatica that seems to originate more in the buttocks and hip, and perhaps radiates down the side of the leg – it’s the Gallbladder channel. This meridian zig-zags across the sides of the body. You know those tender points in your buttocks if you’ve ever gone for a sports massage? Yup that’s probably right on those Gallbladder meridian points. Personally I find Tuina better than needles for getting into these sore spots.

Acupuncture is great for sciatica – less so when there is serious degenerative changes in the spine that are contributing to it. Better acupuncturists than me may disagree, but in my experience it’s tough to get total relief.

It’s particular good for overactive muscles – tight muscles, inflammation, soreness and aching in the back. Although acupuncture may provide you with pain relief you will still need to follow some exercises to prevent re-occurrence.

If you’d like to try acupuncture for sciatica you can book yourself in online by clicking here. You can also arrange a time to speak with Kate beforehand. Please email kate_mcdougall@protonmail.com.

Helping Chronic and Acute Pain conditions with Acupuncture


Patients presenting with aches and pains are the bulk of most acupuncture practices. Why? Well quite simply it helps. It can help reduce the intensity of pain and the frequency of painful episodes, but ‘pain’ can mean a lot of different things to different people. In this blog I’d like to have a look at how an acupuncturist interprets the symptom of pain and how it affects the points he or she chooses and whether we can find a explanation in our own language and medical model of how it might work.

Pain for an acupuncturist usually translates as either ‘Qi stagnation’ or ‘Blood stagnation / stasis’. Qi stagnation is seen as the milder of the two – yet that’s not to say it can’t be extremely painful, but can be characterised by pain that comes and goes. An example of this might be the muscles aches in the upper body so often seen with fibromyalgia. The shoulders can feel really tender and sore for a few days in a row then the patient might feel the pain ease off for a day or two. The pain from Qi stagnation can move around so one day it might feel worse near the neck and then the next day it could be the tops of the shoulders. The words used to describe the pain felt from from Qi stagnation are usually ‘dull, grindy, nervy, niggly, achy’. The goal of the acupuncturist is to get the Qi moving, first by needling points on the affected meridians and then by choosing points that invigorate Qi throughout the body. The simplest of these is known as ‘Four Gates’ and is taught even on acupuncture weekend courses to physios and chiropractors. An acupuncturist might also want to consider why the Qi became stuck in the first place and add in extra needles to try and prevent it from returning and suggest lifestyle changes and specific exercises.

Moving onto ‘blood stagnation and stasis’ which sounds a bit severe, and well yes it can be. The pain here is usually more fixed in its location and presents more consistently. An example of blood stasis could be endometriosis, a gynecological condition that can cause overwhelming pain throughout the menstrual cycle. Aside from local needling, points are chosen on the affected meridians that address blood stasis specifically. Another example would be physical injury – like a broken bone or torn ligament.

Further to that we look to see if the pain is hot or cold in nature – for example signs of redness or inflammation around a joint would say heat to us. We also look to see if it is excess or deficient – if it feels better when pressure is applied then we think deficient. All this information helps an acupuncturist decide whether to use additional therapies like Tui-Na, massage, heat lamps and moxa plus whether to use strong needling techniques or gentle.


Ok – so what happens if the traditional Chinese medicine theory of Qi and Blood not to mention YinYang doesn’t resonate with you? Luckily the effects of acupuncture are not dependent an individual’s belief system (though as with any health intervention if you think you’ll get better you are more likely to – so think positive!). Acupuncture has a good reputation for helping those in pain so there’s been a good bit of work done to discover what actually happens when an acupuncture needle is inserted. It has been suggested that the tingling ache often felt during acupuncture is the direct stimulation of afferent nerve fibres located in muscles and other tissues with leads to a release of endorphins, neuropeptide Y and serotonin – which can all affect perception of pain. A study also saw an increased release of adenosine which has anti-nociceptive properties while two others looked at the reduction of inflammation during acupuncture. Several things can be seen to happen as a result but no-one is yet sure what is having the biggest affect and perhaps it is everything together.


If you are wondering whether acupuncture can help it really is a case of getting started – you’ll probably know at the end of the first session whether acupuncture is something you’d like to continue with.





6 questions about Acupuncture and IVF

People are often apprehensive and curious about needles – how on earth can they help you feel relaxed?  Here are the top 6 questions I get asked about Acupuncture and IVF by nearly every new patient.

1. How often do I need to come? If you follow my advice to start acupuncture 3 months before IVF, you are looking at every 2-3 weeks usually. If you leave it much later say 4 weeks beforehand – then every week.

2. How does it work?Acupuncture is thought to help with the stress response and promote blood flow specifically to the reproductive organs with certain acupuncture points. Other points are chosen that support you as an individual and take into account your physical, mental and emotional health. My patients also find that acupuncture is great at easing the headaches that sometimes accompany the IVF meds.

3. Will it hurt? Generally no! A few people are very sensitive (roughly 1/30) in which case I can use extra tiny needles and more acupressure. If still too sensitive I recommend Reflexology instead.

4. Do I need acupuncture before and after embryo transfer? Short answer NO! But yes I still do acupuncture after embryo transfer! A small trial (subsequently known as the Paulus protocol) looked at implantation rates with IVF comparing both with and without acupuncture at time of transfer. The implantation rates were significantly higher with the acupuncture group. However other trials have looked at other interventions; one notably involved a clown and getting patients to laugh. The implantation rates were higher in this clown watching group too. I take from this that doing something that brings you joy, happiness and relaxes you can possibly help. For my patients who love acupuncture we know it’s a good call for them to have it on the day of transfer as it’s a lovely end to the multitude of appointments the past 2 weeks. I also ask my patients to sing loudly and badly on the way to the IVF clinic and go for walks in nature afterwards. Anything that makes you giggle and happy is good in my opinion!

5. Are there any foods that can help me? I forgotten how many times I’ve been asked if pineapple will help implantation! Eating well in the 3 months beforehand is the most helpful. By eating well I mean regular meals at regular times. Snacking too if people are on the go all day. Eating plenty of low GI foods, complex carbohydrates, a variety of protein and vegetables. It’s not complicated! We all know really what a good diet looks like – but we often skip meals and pick sugary snacks as we suddenly crave some calories.

6. How much caffeine can I have? No coffee. No de-caff coffee – Sorry! Tea is fine in the morning. I’m interested in why someone would need to drink a lot of caffeine throughout the day. Usually it’s related to poor sleep or skipping breakfast and other meals.

To find out more about Acupuncture alongside IVF please arrange a time to speak with Kate by emailing me with your contact details and the best time of day to call you: kate_mcdougall@protonmail.com

Acupuncture for Headaches and Migraines

Acupuncture has always been a popular choice for people suffering with headaches and migraines –  in 2016 however I’ve really noticed a huge increase in the number of people coming to see me, so time I sat down and wrote about how I use acupuncture to help.

Starting off with headaches (as opposed to migraines) – the most common I see is ‘tension type headaches’ which often feel like the band of tightness or pressure across the sides of the head and forehead. They can affect the sides of the face and eyes too and most of us will have experienced these headaches a few times in our lives. They can be triggered by stress, dehydration and low blood sugar and will pass in time. However when these occasional headaches become frequent or even constant they really start in interfere with your quality of life and many people feel unhappy about taking pain relief for these headaches on a daily basis.

In my experience I have not yet (in 8 years of practice) seen a chronic tension headache sufferer without a significant degree of muscular tension somewhere in their neck and upper back muscles. My first step is to relieve the tension in the muscles supporting the head – using cupping therapy and more frequently Tui-Na on the sides and front aspects of the neck where cupping and acupuncture would be inappropriate. I think most of my patients would agree that it is pretty painful the first couple of times I work on these muscles, but that it soon becomes more tolerable – and the headaches decrease in severity at the same time. I use acupuncture for general tension and trigger points in the upper back, often the trapezius muscle is affected and sometimes into the forehead and jaw. I even find little trigger points all over the scalp sometimes and loosening off the scalp with massage and acupuncture is probably the most enjoyable part of the session. It’s important that my patients practice gentle neck stretches in between appointments and become aware of their posture if doing a desk based job for example.

From the view of Chinese medicine these headaches are often diagnosed as Liver Qi stagnation – the Qi or energy has got stuck and cannot flow properly through the meridians in the head and face. Liver Qi is most easily affected by strong emotions including stress, frustration and anger and for women the reproductive hormones can also affect Liver Qi. I add in acupuncture points often on the feet and legs that encourage the Liver Qi to get moving again. Broadly speaking I find acupuncture and Tui-Na to be very effective for tension type headaches and would expect most patients to see a significant improvement within 4-6 weekly sessions.

Coming on to migraines, which in themselves can vary hugely and include other problems such as vomiting and aura. In Chinese medicine migraines again involve the Liver Qi – though the diagnosis is often Liver Yang Rising or Liver Fire. The approach to try and let the body release tension gently and consistently so it doesn’t build up like a pressure cooker which suddenly pops. Once a migraine is established there is little you can do bar wait it out so it’s about using acupuncture to prevent them in the time between. I use the similar approach for migraines as I do with headaches – firstly loosening off all the upper back, neck and scalp tension and I find this reduces the symptom of pain dramatically in most patients. It’s important to include acupuncture points around the body that support that persons constitution and to look more closely at underlying triggers, whether they be food, light or hormonal fluctuations. Interestingly Chinese medicine relates smooth digestive functioning to be important in preventing migraines and a recent study looked at the gut bacteria in migraine vs non migraine sufferers finding a significant difference.

While a tension type headache can be more painful than a migraine and a migraine may present without pain but just visual disturbances – tension headaches do respond better and quicker than migraines most of the time. One of the biggest differences I would say is that with tension headaches I can really just focus on the area of pain from a physical aspect and still see good results. With migraine sufferers you often need to dramatically change your daily lifestyle and approach to life alongside acupuncture to see the best results.

Always speak with your GP if you suffer with chronic headaches – or suddenly experience a new headache which does not go away after a few days. Occasionally headaches can be a sign of something more serious so get their advice. If you’d like to try acupuncture for your headache or if you’d like to speak with me prior to booking in please ring me on 07535 957577 and leave a message. You can also email me at kate_mcdougall@protonmail.com.

The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership’s 5th Birthday!

To celebrate our 5th birthday, the team at NNFP will be hosting all sorts of free consultations and giving away vouchers for treatment and running low cost clinics in the months of September and October. Watch our website for updates! From simple beginnings over our first shared case, Charlotte and I are now so proud of the results and happy families we’ve helped support. We’re constantly working to be better at what we do and to get even more BFP’S the next 5 years!

Acupuncture and Lower Back Pain

This year I have seen an increasing amount of people in the clinic with lower back pain (LBP). It’s a pretty vague term – there’s a lot going on connecting to the back; the spine, back muscles, pelvic muscles, muscles and tendons in the legs and the front of the body all play a part in a strong supple back.

So from my point of view the first thing is to try and work out where the pain is originating from – and to observe the body looking for signs that one group of muscles are working harder to compensate for another which might be under used. Then I look to see which acupuncture meridian these muscle groups correspond too and needle points along this channel both near the site of pain and then at the farthest point on the channel (on the tip of the toe for example). Sometimes more then one meridian is involved – the two most common are the ‘Foot Tai Yang’ meridian and the ‘Shao Yang’ meridian also known as the Bladder and Gall Bladder meridian. I find the Bladder meridian responds well to acupuncture but that the Gall Bladder meridian responds better to a bit of massage combined with the acupuncture.

Lower back pain linked to over active back muscles tends to respond well to acupuncture because the needles are very effective in relaxing tight muscles. I commonly see fit and healthy people with lower back pain which is greatly relieved by properly stretching out the backs of the legs after exercising – and this especially true for runners. Often I find the hip flexors are responsible, its easy to use these deep powerful muscles when trying to achieve a flat tummy instead of really working on the more superficial abdominal muscles. Tight hip flexors can tilt the pelvis and often this will show up as pain right at the base of the spine and sacral area. Acupuncture alongside some lovely stretches for the psoas muscles often works wonders. When dealing with pain resulting from degenerative changes like osteoarthritis, acupuncture can sometimes aggravate the pain if the muscles are loosened off too much. In these cases it’s always better to start very gently adding a couple more needles each session.

While loosening off tight muscles can often provide instant relief, to really prevent the pain from returning it is essential to learn to take the strain off the back by using all the other muscles effectively. I am a huge fan of Pilates for this and I recommend Hanna Dabbour a physiotherapist who runs Pilates classes all over Norwich. Her knowledge of the how all the muscles work together is second to none and she has helped many of my patients!

If you’d like to try acupuncture for LBP but are not sure if its right for you, please ring me on 07535 957577. You can also email me kate_mcdougall@protonmail.com.



Anxiety and Acupuncture

More and more people seem to be turning to acupuncture to help with low level anxiety in their lives. Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree or another – and usually not without reason, trepidation before a big unknown journey or at a job interview perhaps.

People who suffer with chronic anxiety however can feel this uneasy and unsettled feeling pretty much all the time and it can have a crippling affect on their day to day lives. People can be aware that they should not be responding to their environment in such a way and rationally explain to themselves that they should be feeling calm and happy, yet their nervous system still continues in a state of panic and high alert. It’s exhausting after a while – which could explain why it’s not just in the head. Anxiety has physical manifestations such as palpitations, dizziness, headaches and muscle aches to name but a few.

So what’s the cause? Some people are thought to be genetically more prone to anxiety, but the biological mechanism itself is seen as an excessive response of the nervous system to non threatening stimulus. The reason or the way this response is triggered can depend on the individual. Some will be affected due to past trauma with specific triggers causing anxiety problems. Others might respond to a normal anxiety trigger for humans, but then for some reason their nervous system is unable to switch back to ‘calm’ mode. So much of our functioning is beyond our normal control, we really do depend on our internal auto-pilot to regulate our nervous system so we can get on with enjoying our lives.

Acupuncture stimulates certain nerves lying just under the skin. They give a dull tingly effect in the area and work alongside the para-sympathetic nervous system – the ‘calm’ part. I often find that people with chronic anxiety experience sensations more acutely, it is essential to use the thinnest acupuncture needles available. I use the ones I normally reserve for children (who also are very sensitive) as to not overwhelm the person. With successful management of the anxiety we can often move to the normal needles by the 4th session. Regular acupuncture helps the body to remember how to find balance and to switch healthily between both sympathetic and para-sympathetic at ease. Yoga is another technique that does this. The activity followed by conscious relaxation forces you to move between the two. I have seen that my clients who attend a weekly yoga class as well as fortnightly sessions with me experience a dramatic reduction in their anxiety symptoms.

In Chinese medicine, there are different ‘patterns’ within the term ‘anxiety’. Although it is important to work out what pattern you are working with, I have some favourite acupuncture points which nearly always make an appearance! PC 6, ST 36 and Ren14 is a wonderful combination for inducing instant calm and positivity.

ren 14

When I see people for anxiety we agree on a set of ‘key markers’. This a list of symptoms that we both agree are realistic to address. It might look like ‘ I want more energy, less insomnia, to feel more positive about myself and to not to respond to triggers’. Acupuncture can’t (as I am often asked) miraculously help you shed weight and regain your 19 year old figure overnight, but it can slowly begin to undo the negative effects of a highly alert and stressed nervous system. As well as acupuncture, it is essential to look at other general stimuli that affect the nervous system both positively and negatively. We have to look at caffeine intake, exercise – type and duration and the eating habits for example and try to find a way living that reassures the body and mind that just right now – right at this very moment, everything is just perfect and calm, that we can relax and feel safe.

Lower Back Pain Clinic – Thursday 6th March

This year Acupuncture Awareness Week (AAW) runs from March 3rd – 8th. The focus nationwide is on back pain and support comes from the dancer Camilla on BBC’s ‘Strictly’ – she uses acupuncture for her own back pain.
NICE have recently recommended that acupuncture be made available on the NHS for chronic lower back pain, however it is still currently difficult to obtain a referral for NHS acupuncture in Norfolk.
To celebrate AAW 2014 I am running a special pain clinic for lower back pain on Thursday 6th March. This is suitable for people who would like to try acupuncture before committing to a full course of acupuncture or speaking to their GP about options on the NHS.

  • Cost – £10 per acupuncture session
  • Must be suffering with lower back pain – in the small of the back, sacrum, coccyx and buttocks.
  • Must be aged between 18-79.
  • Must not have had any other form of physical treatment (physiotherapy / osteopathy for example) 48 hours prior to acupuncture

Please book your slot by calling clinic reception on 01603 665173. Clinic runs from The Complementary Health Care Clinic, 34 Exchange St, NR2 1AX.

Fertility statistics 2012-2013

2013 is not quite over yet – but here are the initial results from all women trying to conceive using acupuncture in the past 24 months. As well as acupuncture, patients were given advice on diet, lifestyle and over the counter herbal preparations. Please take notice of the inclusion criteria for each group. The most common reasons for women not being included in the statistics are;

i) Not having regular acupuncture sessions over 6 months (defined at the initial consultation as being between 2-3 sessions per month depending on the individual case).

ii) Not keeping in touch – so outcomes are currently unknown

GROUP 1 – Natural Fertility with Women aged 35 and under. Patients must not have used Clomid or undergone IVF with 3 months of commencing acupuncture. Women getting a positive pregnancy test during or within  6 weeks of their last appointment were included. All patients committed to regular sessions for at least 6 months. Several women have been included twice (due to initial miscarriage and then restarting acupuncture).

83% of women had a positive pregnancy test

Of these women 20% suffered early miscarriage before 12 weeks, (all women who experienced miscarriage recommenced acupuncture and are either currently in their 2nd or 3rd trimester OR are starting another 6 month course of acupuncture).

GROUP 2 – Natural Fertility with Women aged 36 and over. Patients must not have used Clomid or undergone IVF with 3 months of commencing acupuncture. Women getting a positive pregnancy test during or within  6 weeks of their last appointment were included. All patients committed to regular sessions for at least 6 months.

67% of women had a positive pregnancy test

Of these women 25% suffered early miscarriage before 12 weeks – all were over 44 years of age.

GROUP 3 – IVF Support for Women aged 35 and under. For patients having acupuncture for more than one round in this time frame  the most recent is included. A positive test is defined as one that is present at least 4 weeks after embryo transfer. To be included in the IVF category patients must have seen me as their primary complementary therapist.

80% got a positive pregnancy test

All women in this group started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before any IVF medication. There were no reported incident of miscarriage in this group.

20% did not get a positive pregnancy test

None of the women in this group started acupuncture before the IVF medication

Group 4 – IVF Support for Women aged 36 and over. For patients having acupuncture for more than one round in this time frame  the most recent is included. A positive test is defined as one that is present at least 4 weeks after embryo transfer. To be included in the IVF category patients must have seen me as their primary complementary therapist.

89% of women got a positive pregnancy test

All of these women had started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before the IVF medication. The miscarriage rate in this group was 13% (all before 12 weeks).

11% of women did not have a positive pregnancy test after 4 weeks.

All of these women also had started acupuncture at least 4 weeks before the IVF medication.

Group 5 – Pregnancy rates within The Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership. To be included in these statistics couples must commit to 12 months of regular appointments. Couples not included in these statistics are those that failed to keep to their given schedule and did not continue past the first block.

Couples whereby the woman is 35 and under – 100% pregnancy rate with no reported miscarriages (includes cases with both male and female fertility issues).

Couples whereby the woman is 36 and over – 100% pregnancy rate with no reported miscarriages (includes cases with both male and female fertility issues).

Currently the longest time it has taken for a couple to achieve pregnancy from the initial start date is 10 months.