Acupuncture is becoming an increasingly popular treatment choice but many people still don’t understand its place in modern, western medicine.
Have you ever wondered how it works? What it feels like? Or which conditions it can help? Physiotherapist and acupuncturist Lizzie Handley explains the benefits and misconceptions of acupuncture.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that can be traced back at least 2500 years. The belief is that pain and illness are caused by a restriction to the flow of energy within the body called ‘Qi’. By inserting needles into specific points, you are releasing the flow of energy and therefore restoring health. Western medical acupuncture has a slightly more evidence-based approach. The same specific points are used on the body but we now understand that these stimulate sensory nerves, causing chemical reactions to take place which releases pain-relieving endorphins.
What conditions can acupuncture treat?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellent (NICE) recommends acupuncture for chronic, tension headaches and migraines. It can, however, be used to treat numerous other musculoskeletal conditions such as:
- Low back pain and sciatica
- Neck pain
- Knee pain
- Tennis elbow
Does acupuncture hurt?
Many people put off trying acupuncture due to their dislike and fear of needles. Acupuncture needles are very fine, as fine as a piece of hair and most people do not even feel them being inserted. They come in a plastic guide tube, you will feel the pressure of this on your skin, a quick tap and the needle is inserted. The small prick of a cocktail stick is used as a comparison to the discomfort felt on insertion. Once in situ, it is normal to feel a mild tingle, ache or heaviness and most people report feeling relaxed, even falling asleep during the session. In some cases, the needle may be stimulated by twisting them, again acupuncture should not be painful.
Are there any side effects?
Acupuncture is considered to be very safe. Some mild side effects are possible and include:
- Minor bleeding or bruising at the needle site in about 3% of patients
- Drowsiness may occur in a small number of patients, if affected you are advised not to drive
- Fainting can occur very rarely
- Existing symptoms may be aggravated after treatment in less than 3% of patients
Usually, side effects or results of too many needles having been inserted or too much stimulation and this can be modified in future sessions.
How many sessions will I need?
The number of treatments and their frequency vary from person to person. Some people experience a dramatic reduction in symptoms following their first session but usually, treatment takes place once a week for a number of weeks.