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Book Review: Head and Facial Pain by M Elies and H Herget

by David Mayor

Horst F Herget, with Michael KH Elies and Harald Herget
Kopf- und Gesichtsschmerz: systematische Darstellung ganzheitlicher Behandlungsmöglichkeiten [Head and Facial Pain: Systematic presentation of holistic treatment possibilities]
KVM (Dr Kolster und Co Produktions- und Verlags-GmbH), Marburg 2000
Hardback, 266 pp
ISBN: 3-932119-19-3 (book and CD-Rom)
Price: € 65.95

This sumptuously produced book will be a revelation to many acupuncturists whatever their orientation. Unlike most textbooks, it exemplifies a truly holistic and integrative approach to a particular set of conditions that is virtually unknown in the UK.

The main author of the book, the late Horst Ferdinand Herget, medical doctor and doctor of dentistry, established the pain clinic at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen (between Frankfurt and Marburg) over thirty years ago. In the 1970s, he was a key figure in the German exploration of electroacupuncture analgesia. In 1981, together with Wolfgang Heinke and Nguyen van Nghi, he co-founded a special interest acupuncture group for doctors in Frankfurt whose aims included finding a synthesis between Western and Oriental medicine. Over the years since then, his interests broadened to include neural therapy, homoeopathy and the intestinal immune system, and regulatory, constitutional medicine in general. The other two authors of the book are also holistic medical practitioners.

A CD-Rom comes with the book, compiled by two further doctors, Hans P Ogal and Bernard C Kolster, with the collaboration of the elder Herget and Reza Schirmohammadi.

The book is very well laid out, with many clear illustrations, and a creative use of colour, typography and icons. An introductory section on the diagnostic and therapeutic methods advocated covers Ordungstherapie (regulatory therapy), body, ear* and scalp* (YNSA) acupuncture, neural therapy*, phytotherapy and homoeopathy, symbiotherapy* (diagnosis and use of probiotics, drainage and detox remedies for intestinal dysbiosis and other digestive organ problems), oxygen and ozone therapy*, bleeding and cupping*, use of drugs, physical therapy and relaxation methods … all in 75 pages! The CD-Rom includes excellent video clips of the asterisked modalities.

After this introductory section comes a brief but vital outline of how to structure treatment, step-by-step, in both acute and chronic cases, with a more detailed presentation of headache types according to the main acupuncture meridian involved, and with suggestions on appropriate acupoints and remedies to use. Then follows an account of the usual types of headache and facial pain, building on the information already given, from migraine through to headache associated with chronic drug abuse, trigeminal neuralgia and atypical facial pain. Again, the illustrations for much of this material are included on the CD-Rom. The acupoint locations are given, together with video clips on their needling. It is fascinating to see these in close-up on the CD-Rom, and to realise how much accepted acupoint locations can vary.

The book closes with a series of appendices that include lists of herbal and homoeopathic remedies, organisations and references, dietary and drug recommendations, a patient pain diary form (rather basic) and a long section by KG Weber on costings for the many different treatments described (appropriate to practitioners in Germany, but not in the UK).

This book is not for the unqualified, is no substitute for supervised training, and may be too simple for the experienced practitioner, except as an aide mémoire. It is also large (31x25 cm) and heavy (1.7 kg), and so impractical for use in a busy clinic or as a vade mecum. Most of the illustrations are repeated unnecessarily, and many pages contain a lot of white space. It is, if you like, for the practitioner’s coffee table, a homage to its leading author, who contributed so much to the development of acupuncture in Germany in his long professional life.

For anyone who reads German, or even for those who cannot but who enjoy a good picture book, this is a wonderful introduction to the personal synsthesis that a gifted, creative and experienced practitioner developed for the treatment of pain. However, his is clearly a particular and very individual ‘synthetic holism.’ Further, despite its excitingly experimental presentation, the book is old fashioned in that it is purely prescriptive, containing no case reports or convincing documentary evidence that Herget’s approach would work in other hands.

With experience, everybody develops their own methods of dealing with patients’ pain. Herget, for example, created his unique system of Symbioselenkung (symbiotherapy). Different patterns of integrative medicine develop in different countries, as well. How much the therapies outlined and combined in this book will find a home in the UK remains to be seen. But we should all be aware of them, and of their possibilities. In a shrinking world, the era of the rigidly applied monotherapy, whether conventional or complementary, is drawing to a close.


David Mayor is a non-medical acupuncturist practising in Hertfordshire, England. A co-founder of the now defunct British Association for Holistic Health in 1983, he is editor of the forthcoming textbook Electroacupuncture: A Practical Manual and Resource (Churchill Livingstone 2007). See for more information.

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