An electrical alternative to needles offers acupuncture for the squeamish

As a long-term sufferer of back pain, I've tried just about every kind of therapy or treatment going.

Strangely though, I've never sought the services of an acupuncturist. It could be because needles make me slightly squeamish, or perhaps I'm not as open-minded as I like to think I am.

Auricular acupuncture has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 3,000 years and works on the premise that every part of your body has a corresponding spot on the outer ear, and by stimulating these points a practitioner can encourage the body's healing process.

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I felt a bit sorry for my practitioner Francis Cassidy, as I presented him with a litany of aches and pains I wanted him to address: general nagging lower back pain almost all the time, sciatica which switches sides, bonus backache from sitting too long, walking too long or standing too long, and an occasional trapped nerve in my shoulder, plus general stiffness in the neck ... where was he going to begin?

It turns out I needn't have worried about needles as Francis uses a device that's a bit like a mini TENS machine: a probe that gives off an electrical charge, but does not penetrate the skin. I was also glad to hear I didn't have to be a believer for the treatment to work, as Francis was confident I would feel physical benefits despite being something of a cynic.

While not at all painful, the treatment wasn't what I'd call relaxing. As Francis pressed the electrical probe into various points of my ear I felt a prickling sensation akin to pins and needles and occasional slight pain from the pressure, while the electrical equipment made some disconcerting squeals and squeaks.

At the end of each of my five hour-long sessions Francis taped a tiny metal pin to a point in my ear thought to release endorphins, which would, he said, help with pain management.

To be honest, I'm afraid my jury is still out when it comes to the efficacy of this treatment. Many friends and acquaintances swear by it as a panacea for what ails them, but I'm not sure I could detect any relief from my ever-nagging backache. Francis also uses acupressure to treat a variety of other conditions, and is particularly experienced in treating addictions, from nicotine and alcohol to overeating.

Francis Cassidy, 0131-661 6922,

Edited by Gaby Soutar

• This article was first published in The Scotsman on 19 June.