Medical acupuncture has its origins in ancient Chinese medicine, whose practitioners believed a person’s wellbeing could be improved by inserting needles to affect the flow of ‘life forces’ through the body.
In modern medicine it’s now firmly established that, whatever its root, acupuncture can have beneficial effects for certain conditions, and it’s now used in many GP surgeries, pain clinics and hospices 1.
What is acupuncture and how does it work?
Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into various parts of the body, known as acupuncture points. In modern Western medical use it’s believed the needles stimulate nerves in the skin and muscle, releasing natural pain-relieving chemicals, called endorphins.
A full 10-week course of acupuncture is thought to change the way the brain deals with pain messages and can give long-lasting pain relief 2.
What can acupuncture help with?
Research has shifted medical opinion a number of times in recent years, and at present the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends acupuncture for tension headaches and migraines.
However, within the medical community it is generally accepted to be effective in treating a number of problems, particularly musculoskeletal conditions 3 – affecting muscle and bone. Along with headaches and migraines, it is frequently used to treat:
- Joint and neck pain
- Dental pain
- Postoperative pain
- Back pain – although this has recently been removed from NICE recommendations
- Nausea and vomiting in some situations
What is an acupuncture session like?
To be covered by your health insurance, your acupuncturist must be a doctor who is also either a member of the British Medical Acupuncture Society or registered with the British Medical Council.
At your first session you’ll be given a general medical assessment, and the practitioner will take your medical history.
Up to 12 single-use sterilised needles may be inserted into various acupuncture points, depending on the condition being treated, either just under the skin or deeper into muscle. They may be adjusted, and the treatment can last from a few minutes up to half an hour.
Is acupuncture safe?
When carried out by a properly trained health care professional, acupuncture is extremely safe.
Some people experience mild, short-lasting sidWhen carried out by a properly trained health care professional, acupuncture is extremely safe effects, such as:
- Slight pain
- Some bleeding or bruising where the needles enter
- Drowsiness or dizziness – and if you do, don’t drive or operate machinery
Tell your practitioner if you have any kind of bleeding disorder or are taking anticoagulants, you have a pacemaker, damaged heart valves or any joint replacements.
Also inform them if you’re pregnant. It’s normally safe but some acupuncture points can’t be used in pregnancy.
And, finally, don’t consider acupuncture if you have a metal allergy or any infection.