Medical acupuncture is a therapeutic technique that involves inserting fine needles into certain points across the body, to encourage healing and pain relief.
Also referred to as “western acupuncture or dry/needling”, the practice differs from the ancient Chinese practice it derives from. While still using needles to stimulate the body’s natural healing abilities, it doesn’t adhere to the concepts of Qi or yin/yang, as followed in Chinese acupuncture.
A course of acupuncture usually creates longer lasting pain relief than when a single treatment is used. Treatment might be once a week to begin with, then at longer intervals as the condition responds. A typical course of treatment lasts five to eight sessions.
Needling specific body parts is thought to stimulate sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles of the body. This results in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. It is thought that these naturally released substances are responsible for the beneficial effects experienced with acupuncture.
While some people respond very well to acupuncture and notice improvements in their symptoms, results can never be guaranteed. You may find that there is no significant change in your symptoms following treatment. That being said, the nature of the treatment often helps people to feel better in themselves, even if there is no real improvement in their medical condition. For instance, some patients notice that acupuncture promotes relaxation, and results in a feeling of improved well-being
The acupuncturist will choose specific points to place the needles based on your condition. Up to 12 points may be used during a typical session, sometimes more, depending on the number of symptoms you have.
The needles are inserted just under the skin, and once the needles are in place, they may be left in position anywhere from a few minutes, up to half an hour. In some cases, needles are inserted slightly deeper, to reach muscle tissue.
Acupuncture needles are usually made of sterilised, stainless steel, specially prepared for the purpose of acupuncture. They are very fine and usually only a couple of centimetres long. Because the needles are so fine, it won’t feel like having an injection or a blood test, which uses needles with a cutting edge.
The sensation varies from person to person. Some people feel a slight sharpness, a tingling or a dull ache, whereas other people feel nothing at all. You shouldn’t experience any significant pain. But if you do, let your practitioner know straight away.
Be sure to inform the acupuncturist of the following before undergoing treatment, if you have:
ever fainted or had a fit
damaged heart valves or a particular risk of infection
a pacemaker or any other implants of an electrical nature
Most importantly, if you have a bleeding disorder (e.g. haemophilia), are taking anticoagulants, or any other kind of medication, it is advisable to talk to your GP before you have acupuncture.
When carried out by a qualified practitioner, acupuncture is generally very safe. However, it is possible to experience some mild, temporary side effects, such as:
pain or discomfort where the needles puncture the skin
drowsiness, feeling faint or dizzy
minor bleeding or bruising
worsening of pre-existing symptoms
There is no statutory regulation for medical acupuncture currently in England, so you are encouraged to check that your practitioner is suitably qualified and insured.
There are many professional organisations practitioners can join, which have taken on a self-regulatory role for medical acupuncture. These organisations ensure suitable qualifications have been achieved and also ensure practitioners abide by a code of ethics and complaints procedure.
Mr Matt Langford, Osteopath provides Medical Acupuncture/Dry needling at The Health Equation for the treatment of musculoskeletal pain as an adjunt to his therapy, when clinically indicated and with the patient’s consent.