What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a holistic form of healing developed over several thousands of years as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture treatment aims to balance the body's energy called Qi (chee) by inserting very fine needles into specific points on the body called Acupoints. TCM has described and mapped these acupoints. Acupoints are found along fourteen meridians. These are pathways for energy flow in the body.
There are more than 2000 Acupoints, each able to regulate, restore or correct different functions of the body. When the human body's energy flow is unbalanced or depleted, a person may feel ill.
By stimulating acupoints the imbalance of energy can be treated. Acupoints are the places where the energy flow is at its most superficial level and therefore accessible to treatment. If you have ever been tempted to massage your temples to try to ease a headache you may inadvertently be stimulating an important acupoint that is used in treating head pain.
Conventional medicine's explanation of how Acupuncture treatment works
Acupuncture treatment is acknowledged to work by conventional medical science. Many medical practitioners now learn some basic acupuncture points and offer a limited form of acupuncture treatment to their patients. Western medical science has different explanations of how acupuncture works.
- Meridians (or energy flow pathways) lie very close to the main nerve branches. Therefore, when acupoints are stimulated, the nerves are also stimulated, which produces noticeable pain relief.
- Each organ has its own specific nerve supply. By stimulating each organ's nerve supply, acupuncture can also have an effect on major organs and body systems.
- In musculoskeletal problems, stimulation of acupoints increases blood flow to the damaged area, supplying it with extra oxygen and nutrients, hence aiding and speeding up the healing process.
- Acupuncture releases endorphins, the body's natural pain killing chemicals.
Does Acupuncture really work?
Numerous studies have been done investigating the effectiveness of acupuncture. Many of these studies concluded that acupuncture is an effective form of treatment for many different conditions. Acupuncture is so powerful that it is used as one of the main forms of anaesthesia in open heart surgery in China.
In a recent BBC series of programmes entitled "Alternative Medicine: The Evidence", the presenter, Professor Sykes, examined in detail all the available evidence to see if acupuncture really works. As part of the programme, Professor Sykes was involved in a scientific experiment, whereby acupuncture needles were inserted into volunteers while their brain was scanned using the very latest MRI technology. The MRI scans showed that the areas of the brain that are responsible for sensing pain switched off as soon as a particular acupuncture point was stimulated.
Professor Sykes commented "I'm just thrilled that we managed to do a real scientific experiment, shaped and run by scientists and run by acupuncturists together, where we found something quite unexpected; that acupuncture is having a measurable effect on the human brain."
What happens in an Acupuncture consultation with our acupuncturist?
During your first consultation with our acupuncturist you will be asked to describe any symptoms that you experience. You will also be asked about your present and past medical history. In most cases your pulse in both wrists will be felt in order to feel their quality, rhythm and strength. The structure, colour and coating of your tongue will also be examined to assess your physical health. These are very valuable techniques used in Chinese medicine to reach a diagnosis.
Depending on your problem, you may be asked to undress to your underwear. You will then be asked to lie down on a padded treatment couch to be physically examined (if required) and treated (you will be covered with a sheet or towel for comfort). To preserve your modesty and privacy, only the areas of the body being treated are exposed during the consultation. After the assessment and diagnosis, the best treatment plan for managing your health and treating your conditions will be formulated. Sometimes if our acupuncturist considers it to be in the best interests of your health you may be advised to consult another health care practitioner.
Once satisfied that all the relevant information to determine the likely causes of your problems has been obtained, our acupuncturist will then select the most appropriate acupuncture treatment. Although there are 2000 recognised acupuncture points only a small number of these will be used in any one particular treatment session.
Needles will then be inserted into the most appropriate acupuncture points. This may be away from the site of the problem. For example, a point on a hand may be used to treat back ache. The needles will usually be left in place for an average of 10-15 minutes, although this may be shorter or longer, depending on the problem being treated. During this time most patients feel quite relaxed, some even fall asleep.
As part of your treatment and management, you may be advised on lifestyle and healthcare improvement. For example, modifications to the levels of exercise, rest and relaxation and dietary alterations may be recommended. This lifestyle counselling will help you look after your own health to help prevent any possible future health problems.
Other Traditional Chinese Medicine approaches, such as moxibustion, cupping, acupressure, auricular acupuncture or electroacupuncture may be used during the consultation to optimise the treatment effect. Chinese herbs may also be prescribed in consultation with you if your acupuncturist feels these would enhance the effect of acupuncture.
Does Acupuncture treatment hurt?
Acupuncture needles are very fine, much finer than the needles used in injections or blood tests. Some are thinner than human hair. When the needle is inserted, some people feel a very slight tingling sensation. Most people are pleasantly surprised that the feeling of the needle being inserted is not as uncomfortable as they were expecting.
Are there side-effects from Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is extremely safe and rarely produces any side effects. Only disposable needles are used in our practice. Thus, there is virtually no risk of infection or cross-contamination. The effects of acupuncture treatment vary from person to person. For example, some people may feel hot or cold, or feel a sensation of tingling or twitching in another part of their body away from the area treated. Some patients experience a release of pent-up emotions or wonderful laughter. Most patients, however, feel a deep sense of warmth and relaxation. Many people often feel sleepy after acupuncture treatment. Some patients, especially if treated for musculo-skeletal problems, might feel sore for a few days after being treated.
Reducing the chances of side-effects from Acupuncture.
To reduce the chances of you suffering any side effects from treatment, ensure that you:
- avoid drinking large quantities of coffee or alcohol shortly before or after treatment
- avoid having large meals just before treatment, but also make sure that you do not have treatment on an empty stomach
- drink plenty of water to flush out any toxins, which may be released as a result of the treatment
- whenever possible, ensure after you have been treated that for the rest of the day you do not do any heavy work and have plenty of rest
- you may feel sleepy after the treatment. If you do feel sleepy, you should not operate any machinery.
During the taking of your history it is probable that all of the following will have been identified. However, just in case, please always advise your practitioner if you:
- suffer from brittle bones disease (e.g. osteoporosis)
- are undergoing long-term steroid therapy, which can make the tissues fragile
- have a history of epilepsy
- are diabetic
- have a pacemaker or any other mechanical implant
- get easily bruised
- suffer from blood clotting disorders
- take anticoagulant drugs
- receiving or recently received cancer treatment
- pregnant or suspect you might be pregnant or actively trying to conceive.
If you are affected by any of the above conditions or scenarios, it is still safe for you to have acupuncture treatment. However, the way treatment is given will need adjusting to take into account any of these features of your health.
How much acupuncture treatment will be required?
The amount of treatment you will need will depend on your condition. As a general guideline a more recent or acute problem may need only one or two acupuncture treatments. A chronic or older long term condition may require at least ten appointments to get better. Usually, you should find some improvement after five sessions. Age also affects the rate of improvement. For example, children tend to respond quicker than older patients. This is due to the difference in strength and vitality of healing rates. Should your condition not improve as expected, a different therapy or type of care may be recommended.
Once your main complaint has improved, we may suggest a maintenance programme to "top-up" your energy levels and help your body, mind and spirit stay strong and healthy.