Acupuncture began in China about 2500 years ago and it is a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which is based on theory of meridians (channels). Chinese Medicine believes that energy (called qi) flows around human body freely through meridians without being interrupted. If the channel is blocked resulting that qi cannot pass through the channel, this may cause illness. The acupuncture needles are inserted into certain points of your body along with the channels to unblock the channels.
The effectiveness of acupuncture to treat disorders is still a long standing question in research field. There are many conflicting research results on treatments of different kinds of conditions. Sometimes it is difficult to draw firm conclusions, because of the way that the research was conducted. Researchers are trying hard to perform well designed research using control group and sham acupuncture. For some conditions, the effectiveness with acupuncture treatment is agreed, such as back pain by the researchers.
From clinical point of view (many acupuncturists and patients would agree), acupuncture does have amazing effects for many patients with some conditions, again back pain is a good example. Usually acupuncture is the last treatment that patients want to go through. They have gone through many other treatments without any improvements sometimes for years, so why not try acupuncture and they choose an acupuncturist. The cases like these are more difficult to treat. Surprisingly needles worked. I would not say acupuncture works for everyone and every condition (no medications do), but I did see many patients are no longer living in pain and having much happier life; fibroids and ovary cysts shrunk and disappeared.
Acupuncture has been accepting by more and more doctors and patients as an effective alternative treatment for some conditions. Acupuncture is accepted as complimentary therapy by general medicine based on the theory that the acupuncture needles stimulate nerve endings and this adjusts brain functions. Acupuncture is increasingly popular since last a few decades. Recently a survey showed that about 4.1% of adult population in the survey were using acupuncture in their lifetimes in US. Acupuncture makes great contribution to the healthcare of the UK, with an estimated 4 million sessions provided annually (Hopton AK et al 2012) and about 7% of adult population have consulted an acupuncture practitioner within their lifetime in the UK.
What is the acupuncture procedure like?
It is better to get information about acupuncture procedure before hand; this would give you a peace in mind. What happens during acupuncture? First of all, you will have a detailed consultation. The acupuncturist will ask your questions about your medical history, the illness or symptoms you wanted to treat with acupuncture, illness that acupuncture cannot be performed, such as bleeding problem. Then he or she may examine you and you can also ask questions. According to your history and the examination, the acupuncturist will decide how the acupuncture is performed and you will be advised. You will need to lie down on the treatment bed at the position required for the acupuncture and expose certain area where acupuncture points are selected. Special thin acupuncture needles (They are 25-50 times thinner than injection needles) will be inserted into selected particular acupuncture points in your body. These special needles are sterilised, individually packed, one off and disposable. When the needle is penetrating into your skin, you may feel a bit tingly. The needles may be inserted into your skin about half a centimetre to one centimetre depending on where the acupuncture points are and your reactions to the needles.The length of the course is depending on how individuals respond to the treatments.
How to prepare for acupuncture treatment?
There is no special preparation for acupuncture treatment. There are a few tips that may help to achieve best effects. First of all, you should feel relaxed and be confident to put trust on the acupuncturist that you have chosen. These are very important. You could bring personal listening device to use during the treatment to make you relax more. Anything that makes you nervous or stressful would compromise the effectiveness. Second, eat light meal about 2 hour before the appointment. Empty stomach increases the risk of nausea and dizziness. Heavy food upset your stomach which is not recommended. Third, avoid drinking alcohol during the day of the treatment. Fourth, try to wear loose comfortable cloth. Fifth, get a good night sleep to help maximize the effect. Sixth, bring all test results that you have taken before and a list of medications that you are currently undergoing. Finally, empty your bladder before enter the treatment room.
What do you expect from acupuncture?
Acupuncture helps the body balance and return to its healthy state. Most patients say they feel much better, more energetic and less anxiety with the treatments progressing. There is no more sleepless night, pain goes away and joint moves again. All of these seem a miracle for those who never be treated with acupuncture. Is there really a miracle? Absolutely no miracle. I would advise you to set up a realistic expectation to avoid disappointment.
How quick is the acupuncture effect coming up? It depends on individuals: what the conditions are, how long the illness is and how well the body responds to the treatment. For example, for some pain conditions, the pain can be relieved very quickly, you may feel better instantly, while for other conditions, it may take longer to accumulate the effects. If an illness is there for a long time, which makes the pathological damage well established, it will take much longer time to reverse the process. It is impossible that a ten year long illness disappears completely in a week. Don't give up trying, you would see the improvement of your heath. Positive expectation enhances the effect of acupuncture.
Not all conditions can be treated with acupuncture. Acute and severe conditions are not suitable for acupuncture treatment. For example, if you are suffering from severe chest pain or acute abdominal pain, this may be life-threatening and you need to go to hospital to see a doctor rather than an acupuncturist.
What conditions can be treated with acupuncture?
Acupuncture has been proved an effective treatment to many diseases. There are 107 diseases or symptoms that could be treated with acupuncture listed on World Health Organisation (WHO) website:
Are there any risks with acupuncture?
Generally acupuncture is very safe. Side effects or complications are rare but you may want to know this. Side effects of acupuncture include:
Discomfort when the needle is inserted.
Needle sickness: feeling drowsiness, faint or feeling faint, dizziness, headache, nausea, sweaty.
Bruising or bleeding at the needle point.
Temporary worsening of your symptoms: occasionally there may be transient worsening of symptoms which may last for a couple of days followed by improvement. This is because acupuncture is an invasive procedure and your body reacts strongly to the treatment. These are normal reaction of your body to the treatment.
Damage internal organs or nerves from the insertion of the needles
Infection, disposable needles are used to reduce the risk.
Hopton AK et al BMJ Open. (2012)11:2-9
Burke A et al J Altern Complement Med. 2006 12:639-48.