Acupuncture has been used as a form of treatment in China for several thousand years, and its' origins date back as far as 500BC. It has been increasingly accepted into Western medicine since the early 1970's and can be applied using the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and/or using a Western/anatomical approach.
There is much debate about what the acupuncture points actually represent. Chinese medicine believes that a flow of energy (qi) exists within the body, circulating through invisible channels called 'meridians'. There are 14 meridians in total: 6 paired in the upper limb, 6 paired in the lower limb, and 2 midline meridians (one lying at the front of the body, and the other at the back). Each meridian is associated with a particular organ or organ system, and is linked to either yin or yang energy.
Reputed to represent cold, winter, night, moon, woman, the anterior (front) and lower part of the body, deficiency and degeneration.
Reputed to represent warm, sun, summer, day, man, the posterior (back) and upper part of the body, excess and acute infection.
All of the organs of the body have some yin and some yang energy. The organs stay in good health and functioning order as long as this yin-yang balance is maintained. If for any reason the balance is disturbed (excess/deficiency/stagnation of qi), disease and dysfunction appears. The flow of qi can however be influenced (increased/decreased/balanced) by stimulating acupuncture points using needling techniques.
Classical acupuncturists describe approximately 365 acupuncture points lying along the meridians, which are thought, when stimulated, to have an effect on a particular organ or organ system, to regulate the level/flow of energy within the body. There are also many additional points noted, which brings the total number of available points close to 1000.
This theory is a strange concept for us in the 21st Century, as we want to be able to explain everything scientifically. Research indicates that acupuncture works by mediating a chemical (endorphin) in the bloodstream. Endorphins are located in several areas of the nervous system, where they are released into the bloodstream under the influence of the neurological (nervous) system. They are natural morphines (pain relievers) which travel within the body to the appropriate (painful) area, and produce an inhibitory effect on the transmission of pain.
As acupuncture has been shown to release endorphins, it can be used to great effect for pain relief. From an anatomical viewpoint, the sites of stimulation can be located within:
- Muscle (muscle belly (trigger point), tendon, fascia)
- Joint (capsule, ligament)
- Blood vessels (to the muscle)
- Nerve (to the muscle or joint)
What can acupuncture be used for?
The application of acupuncture follows a detailed assessment, but can be used to help with:
- Musculoskeletal Pain (Low back pain, sciatica, whiplash, arthritis, facial pain, postural pain, acute injury, joint pains, pregnancy-related pain)
- Reducing inflammation
- Promoting healing
- Headaches (Migraine, tension, cluster, cervicogenic (neck-related), trigeminal neuralgia, sinusitis)
- Other medical conditions (Allergies, anxiety, infertility, morning sickness)
When is acupuncture contraindicated?
There are a few absolute contraindications to acupuncture, and several areas for caution:
- There are a few absolute contraindications to acupuncture, and several areas for caution:
- Metal allergy
- True needle phobia
- Infection (area to be treated)
- Taking anti-coagulant medication (certain points avoided)
- Haemophilia (certain points avoided)
- Unstable diabetes
- Unstable epilepsy
- Pregnancy (caution within first trimester and certain points avoided)
Are there any side effects?
Potential hazards of needling may include:
- Bleeding (usually only mild spotting if it occurs)
- Bruising (usually only mild if it occurs)
- Temporary aggravation of symptoms (settles relatively quickly and is not considered to be an adverse response to treatment)
- Dizziness (usually temporary if it occurs)
- Fatigue (can be common following treatment but only temporary)
Rare risk factors may include:
- Infection (all needles are single-use and sterile, and are disposed of immediately following treatment into a clinical waste sharps bin. Areas of infection should never be needled so the risk of infection is minimal)
- Broken needle(never been seen in over 10 years of acupuncture practice, but has been described in the literature. Needles are never pushed fully in to their entire length so should always be able to be removed should this event occur)
- Perforation of an organ (areas most at risk are the apices of the lung, the abdomen and the thorax. There are strict guidelines as to the exact location, length of needle, direction of needling and depth of insertion so again, the risk is minimal)
What should I expect?
To establish whether acupuncture is an appropriate management choice, the treating therapist must first carry out a detailed assessment, including a full history of the complaint/condition and a physical examination.
It is important that you understand the process of acupuncture and that it may not have an instantaneous effect, particularly if your pain/condition is chronic in nature. We would usually carry out 3-4 sessions of acupuncture in an attempt to alleviate your symptoms and at that point, a decision will be made concerning further/ ongoing treatment.
If you are responding after the 'trial' period, the sessions can be continued (up to 10 sessions may be required). If no change is seen at this stage, alternative modalities will be considered and discussed with you.
Having established that no contraindications/areas for caution exist, consent will obtained (verbal and written). However, if at any point during the acupuncture session, you wish to discontinue treatment, simply inform your therapist and the needles can be removed immediately.
Treatment may be performed with the client in lying or supported sitting, depending upon the body area to be needled. An initial session may only involve 10-15 minutes of acupuncture but, following that, treatment time will be increased to upward of 20-25 minutes (depending upon the length of the session). Whilst in situ, the needles will be manually stimulated (by lightly tapping the needle) to add (tonify) or remove (sedate) energy from the point, depending on the intended outcome of treatment.
At the end of the treatment, the needles are carefully removed and disposed of immediately into a clinical waste sharps bin. Ideally, you would rest for a short while following acupuncture treatment, to optimise the effects of the endorphin release. It can be quite common to feel sleepy after treatment, and many clients report a sense of relaxation following acupuncture.
Response to treatment can be varied. Every client is different and should be re-evaluated at each return visit to establish their response to the acupuncture. Sometimes, no effect may be felt until several sessions have been completed. This is common with chronic problems, where the brain (pituitary gland) has become so depleted of endorphins over time, it takes a while for this level to re-build and to be released into the bloodstream. However, many clients report much quicker results and, on rare occasions, 'miracles' can occur (though unfortunately these are much less common that we would like!).
Will it hurt?
Again, individual responses to acupuncture vary greatly between clients, but the general consensus of opinion seems to be that "it doesn't feel like you think it's going to" and "it's very different from having an injection". A very brief pricking sensation may be felt as the needle pierces the skin, and then clients describe the remainder of the process as a "dull ache"/ "mild scratching sensation"/ "feeling of heaviness"/ "pins and needles feeling"/ "mild spasm" etc. The sensation is rarely sharp and symptoms may be felt well away from where the needle has been inserted (particularly common with muscular trigger point release techniques).
We have a number of therapists who practice acupuncture for a variety of conditions (pain relief, muscular issues, pregnancy-related disorders, holistic balance) and you can access our acupuncture services at all of our clinics. To make an appointment with Sarah, Kate, Michelle, or Tom or for any further information regarding acupuncture, please call our central reception team on 0113 2870926. Alternatively, you may prefer to contact our Clinical Director Sarah Joice on 07908 684441 (please note; we may not always be able to answer calls, but please leave a message and your call will be returned as soon as possible).