What is Acupuncture?
Traditional belief is that energy flows freely through the body via channels. However, when there is a problem the energy stagnates. Acupuncture helps to restore the healthy flow of energy in the body and restore normal and balanced bodily function.
Recent scientific research has shown that acupuncture is a treatment that can relieve symptoms of some physical and psychological conditions and may encourage the patient’s body to heal and repair itself. Acupuncture stimulates the nerves in skin, muscle and other tissues, and can produce a variety of effects. We know that it increases the release of the body’s natural painkillers, including endorphins and serotonin, in the pathways of both the spinal cord and the brain. This modifies the way pain signals are received by the brain and can help to reduce the amount of pain we experience.
Acupuncture combined with physiotherapy is now widely accepted. It is viewed by physiotherapists as complementary, rather than alternative therapy and should be used alongside other management strategies, such as exercise.
When should it not be used?
There are certain circumstances where acupuncture should not be used:
- If you have a needle phobia
- If you have a known metal allergy, specifically stainless steel
- If you have a known infection in the area to be needled
When should it be used with caution?
You should also inform your physiotherapist if you:
- Have haemophilia
- You are pregnant or trying to conceive
- Suffer from epilepsy
- Have a deficient/ weakened immune system
- Have a heart pacemaker
- Are taking anticoagulant (blood thinning) medication e.g. Aspirin, Warfarin
- Are diabetic
These conditions do not exclude you from having acupuncture but they will influence its application. Your physiotherapist needs to know.
Does acupuncture work?
Yes it has been scientifically proven and researched to be effective, but it does not work for all. Success can depend on a number of factors, which include:
- General health
- The severity and duration of the condition
- How the condition has been managed in the past
No two people are the same and it is one of the strengths of acupuncture that we treat people individually to get better results. If you know someone who has experienced acupuncture you may find it helpful to discuss the process before deciding on treatment.
What does acupuncture involve?
Treatment will consist of the insertion of fine needles. These are pre-sterilised and disposed of after one use, ensuring strict hygiene practice. The needle insertion will feel like a mild pinprick and should only give temporary discomfort. Once needles are in place you may feel a mild ache, numbness, warm or heavy sensation at and around the needle. This should not be unpleasant. This is referred to as “De Qi” and is a sign that the body’s inbuilt pain relieving mechanisms are being stimulated. Your physiotherapist may gently stimulate the needle until you experience the De Qi. This may be repeated again throughout your treatment.
Most commonly a treatment will involve the insertion of between 2-16 needles. Needles can be in place for as little as a few seconds or 1-2 minutes. More commonly needles will be in place for between 10-30 minutes.
It is advisable to eat before having acupuncture, and not to attend if you are suffering a severe cold or flu.
Dry needling, which is a technique of inserting acupuncture needles into trigger points (tight sensitive area in the muscles), to relieve pain and restore movement. Dry needling involves the same sterile techniques as used for acupuncture.
Is acupuncture safe?
Chartered Physiotherapists are fully trained in the management of a wide range of conditions. AACP members using acupuncture are required to train to a minimum standard and are bound by professional codes of conduct through the Chartered Society of physiotherapy (CSP) and Health professionals Council (HPC).
Acupuncture is safer than many of the drug treatments used. However, any procedure that involves inserting needles into the body has some potential problems, but these remain minimal. Acupuncture has been known to produce some “side effects” in certain people.
Minor side effects:
- Some needle discomfort
- Drowsiness and sleepiness following treatment
- Bruising or very minor bleeding at the needle site
- Temporary pain increase
- Feeling faint
Serious side effects (these are very rare and should be prevented by providing safe and hygienic acupuncture treatment by a trained practitioner):
- Damage to an internal organ from the insertion of a needle
- Infection in the area where the needle was inserted
- Infection from Hepatitis or HIV
- Infection which may infect previously damaged heart valves
- Premature onset of labour in pregnancy