What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of therapy where fine needles are inserted into the body at specific points. It can be used to treat a variety of medical conditions. It is one of the oldest forms of treatment dating back over 5000 years. Primarily used in china and it is now one of the most rapidly growing complementary therapies in the UK. Acupuncture is one of several different types of treatment that the physiotherapist can offer, and it is often used alongside treatments such as massage, exercise, joint mobilisation and general rehabilitation.

How Does It Work?

Research shows that when you insert needles into acupuncture points, it helps stimulate nerves, muscles and tissue in your body. This stimulation encourages the body to release certain chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin. Endorphins are the body's natural form of painkillers, which your brain releases in times of stress and pain. Serotonin affects you mood, behaviour and emotions. These chemicals not only provide pain relief but also assist the body in its healing process.

Western acupuncture involves dry needling of tight and dysfunctional tissues. Trigger point release and intra-muscular stimulation will help to decrease pain and release tight tissues, therefore promote healing.

What Conditions can Acupuncture Help?

  • Muscle and Joint problems
  • Sports injuries
  • Headaches
  • Neck and back pain
  • Acute/chronic injuries

Does Acupuncture Work?

Yes, but it does not work for all patients, and response rates vary. Success can depend on several factors, which include:

  • The duration and severity of the condition
  • General Health of the patient
  • Past management of the condition if chronic

What Are the Benefits of Acupuncture?

  • Pain relief
  • Release of tight tissue muscle, fascia, ligament and tendon
  • Relief of general superficial symptoms
  • Increase circulation
  • Improvement of sleep
  • Induces relaxation
  • Improvement in patients well being
  • Reduction in painkiller medication

When is Acupuncture Treatment Appropriate?

This will be suggested and discussed with you if your physiotherapist believes that acupuncture will help in the treatment of your condition.

When should Acupuncture Not be Used?

  • If you have a known metal allergy (Specifically stainless steel)
  • If you have a phobia of needles
  • If you have a known infection in the area to be needled

When should Acupuncture be Used with Extreme Caution?

  • Have Haemophilia (your blood is unable to clot)
  • If you are taking anti-coagulants (blood thinning medication)
  • Suffer from epilepsy
  • Diabetic
  • You are pregnant or trying to conceive
  • Have a pace maker
  • Have a weakened/ deficient immune system

What does the Treatment Involve?

The physiotherapist will assess and examine you. If acupuncture is appropriate then specific points will be selected to help your condition. During an acupuncture session you will be asked to sit or lie down on the treatment couch. You may then be asked to remove certain items of clothing, so that the therapist can access the relevant acupuncture points on your body. Your physiotherapist will use single-use, pre-sterilised stainless steel needles, which are disposed of immediately after use. The needles are inserted quickly and gently through the skin and into the tissues. Acupuncture needles are a lot finer and are solid, compared to those used for injections/blood tests.

What Will I Feel?

Some patients may experience a slight pin prick or scratch like sensation as the fine needles are inserted into the skin, but this feeling should not last, nor should you experience any significant pain. If you do experience pain, let your acupuncturist know straight away, as they have to re-adjust the position or depth of the needle.

Once the needles are in place, your physiotherapist will stimulate the needles using small rotational movements. You may then feel any of the following sensations; a dull ache, warmth, tingling/numbness, a heavy sensation, or a tightening at and around the needles. These sensations are referred to as 'De Qi'.

Where Will the Needles Be Placed?

They may be inserted:

  • Around the painful area
  • Distal (away) from the painful area, commonly in the hands and feet (Recent research suggest that needling away from an area of pain is effective)
  • On the opposite side of the body.

How Many Needles will be Used?

Most commonly the treatment will involve the insertion of between 2-16 needles.

How Long Does Acupuncture Last?

Once the needles have been inserted, they will be left in place for between 5-30 minutes. In some cases the needles may only be inserted for as little as a few seconds. This depends on the type of treatment you require.

How Many Treatments are Needed?

Research suggests that patients will normally require approximately 6-10 sessions of acupuncture, to achieve the best results. Acupuncture treatments may vary depending on the condition being treated and how you as an individual respond to treatment. Each treatment should be tailor-made to you and your condition.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Members of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP) are required to train to a minimum standard. Acupuncture is safer than many of the drug treatments used. Your physiotherapist has been trained to use the strictest hygiene. However, any procedure involving the insertion of needles into the body has some potential side effects, but these remain minimal (less than one per 10,000 treatments). Acupuncture should not make your condition worse and, following treatment, your symptoms should either remain the same, or they should improve.

How will I Feel Afterwards?

Acupuncture can affect everyone differently. Some people feel relaxed and calm others feel alert and energised. In some cases, acupuncture can leave you feeling tired, drowsy and lethargic for a few hours following your treatment session. If you do feel any of the above, make sure you do not drive or operate machinery until you feel more alert and awake.

Some people find that they experience dizziness, sweating, feel faint or their condition flares up, but these should be short-lasting, and pass within a few hours. Make sure that you rest and drink plenty of water. If your symptoms persist contact your GP or A&E.

Minor Side Effects

  • Some discomfort at the needles site
  • Bleeding and Bruising at the needle side
  • Drowsiness and sleepiness after treatment
  • Feeling faint/Dizziness/Light-headiness
  • Short-term pain increase

Serious Side Effects (these Are Very Rare)

  • Damage to an internal organ from the insertion of a needle
  • Infection in the area where the needle was inserted
  • Premature onset of labour in pregnancy

Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP)

Michelle is registered with the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP).
If you require more information visit the AACP Website.