Acupuncture for Tiredness and Fatigue
Whilst most people get tired and run down from time to time, many people in our society suffer from what can be a debilitating level of fatigue which may impact negatively on their work and their social and family lives. From a conventional medical point of view, such tiredness may be due to a number of conditions, although in some cases there may be no known cause. Overwork, excessive or insufficient exercise, poor diet, severe illness and childbirth can all lead to fatigue.
Part of the problem is that our modern consumer society encourages us to be always on the go, always looking to be earning more, spending more, and, therefore, working more. We have, perhaps, lost the ability to take time out, to relax deeply, and to replenish ourselves and our body’s resources. In fact, just as our society is exploiting the earth’s resources, so often we tend to be exploiting our own body’s resources!
Tiredness and Fatigue and TCM
According to TCM, a healthy person is one who has abundant Qi which is able to flow freely around the body. Fatigue arises either when there is not enough Qi, or the Qi is not able to flow freely. In the latter case one may actually feel better for a moderate amount of exercise (a brisk walk for example) whilst in the former case one will feel even more tired.
In the case of depleted Qi, TCM aims to supplement and boost the patient’s Qi, and so needs to discover why the Qi is depleted in the first place. To take one example, it may be that the person’s digestive system is not working very effectively, so that the food they take in is not converted into Qi very efficiently. This in turn may be due to poor eating habits, such as eating unhealthy food or eating in a hurried way, or it may be due to other factors. In TCM, for instance, excessive mental activity such as our modern way of studying – cramming information into our already full brains – can deplete the digestive system. Another possibility is that our respiratory system is impaired, so that we do not inhale as much air as our body needs; this might be due to habitual poor posture (for instance, sitting hunched over a desk at work) or due to excessive sadness or grief, which in Chinese thought is considered to deplete the Lung Qi. These are just two possible examples of how our Qi may be weakened; at an initial TCM consultation the practitioner will spend quite a bit of time discussing the patient’s health with them so as to enable them to understand clearly the cause of the patient’s fatigue and to treat it appropriately.
Treatment in these cases will involve boosting the Qi and regulating the organ systems which are malfunctioning. This will involve acupuncture and possibly herbal therapy, and the practitioner may advise dietary and lifestyle changes to facilitate a quicker recovery.
If the problem is that the Qi cannot flow freely, this may be due to a tensing up of the whole system, often as a result of emotional strain. Acupuncture is particularly effective at helping the Qi to flow more smoothly, especially when combined with appropriate exercise. Alternatively the accumulation of pathogenic factors in the body may be obstructing the Qi. A common pathogenic factor is Dampness, which refers to the accumulation of bodily fluids, perhaps due to poor eating habits, which ‘clog up’ the system leaving us feeling heavy and lethargic. Acupuncture, herbal therapy, appropriate exercise and diet applied together can help to resolve the Dampness and restore the free flow of Qi.
Is Acupuncture Helpful in the treatment of Tiredness and Fatigue?
A recent clinical trial in China 1 found acupuncture to have a definite therapeutic effect on tiredness in chronic fatigue subjects, with Fatigue Assessment Instrument scores reduced from 148 to 99, and associated improvements in depression, anxiety and interpersonal relationships.
1 Wang O, Xiong JX. Clinical observation on effect of electro-acupuncture on back-shu points in treating chronic fatigue syndrome. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi . 2005 Sep;25(9):834-6.