What is Acupuncture?

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What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture comes from ancient Chinese medicine. Fine needles are inserted at specific places throughout the body for therapeutic or preventative purposes.

It is used widely in the NHS and throughout the world.

Western (medical) acupuncture

This is the use of acupuncture following a medical diagnosis. It involves stimulating sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles.

This results in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. It's likely that these naturally released substances are responsible for the beneficial effects experienced with acupuncture.

Traditional acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy, or "life force", flows through the body in channels called meridians. This life force is known as Qi.

Practitioners who use acupuncture in the traditional way believe that when Qi does not flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. They also believe acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi, and so restore health.

When to have acupuncture?

Acupuncture is used for a wide variety of illnesses and issues. In NHS settings, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for:

  • chronic tension-type headaches
  • migraines
  • chronic pain, such as neck pain
  • joint pain
  • dental pain
  • postoperative pain

How acupuncture is performed

Most treatments will start with an initial consultation and treatment session for around an hour. This will include an assessment of your general health, medical history and a physical examination, followed by insertion of the acupuncture needles.

The needles may be inserted just under the skin, or deeper so they reach the muscle. Once the needles are in place, they may be left in position for a length of time lasting from a few minutes up to around 30 minutes.

You may feel a tingling or a dull ache when the needles are inserted but you should not experience any significant pain. If you do, let your practitioner know straight away. They can make you more comfortable by moving or removing the needle and/or using thinner needles.

When Acupuncture is delivered by a qualified practitioner, it is generally very safe. Rarely, some people experience mild, short-term side effects such as:

  • pain where the needles puncture the skin
  • bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin
  • drowsiness
  • feeling sick
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • worsening of pre-existing symptoms

If you have a bleeding disorder, such as haemophilia, or are taking anticoagulants, talk to your GP before you have acupuncture.