Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine which involves the insertion of very fine needles at key points (known as acupuncture points) into the body.
In the UK, acupuncture is a popular and well-established complementary therapy, with approximately three million people undergoing this kind of treatment each year.
The Science Behind Acupuncture
Acupuncture is based on the Chinese belief that the human body is controlled by a life force known as Qi (pronounced 'chee'). Qi flows through the body in channels, known as meridians. When your Qi is disturbed or unbalanced it can make you unwell. Acupuncture aims to restore the balance of Qi, and helps it to run smoothly through your body.
Some people take a more scientific approach to acupuncture and focus instead on the way it helps the body to release its natural painkillers, known as 'endorphins'. It can also help stimulate nerve and muscle tissue. Science cannot explain everything about acupuncture, and further research is required before it can be fully understood.
Uses for Acupuncture
Acupuncture is primarily used to ease symptoms of pain and discomfort. Studies suggest that there are a number of conditions which acupuncture can help to treat, including post-operative pain, migraines and nausea. More high-quality research is needed to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture on other conditions.
It is important to make sure that the acupuncturist selected is fully qualified, and practises the treatment under safe and hygienic conditions.
Inserting the Needles
There are over 500 acupuncture points on the body. Acupuncture points are places on your body which are thought to affect the way that organs and tissues function. During an acupuncture session, normally 10-12 acupuncture points are used.
Once the acupuncturist has identified which points are going to be used, a number of ultra-fine needles are placed into the points. They are normally inserted between half a centimetre, to several centimetres into the skin. These needles are single-use, pre-sterilised needles, which are disposed of immediately after use.
When the needles are inserted, it may cause a tingling sensation, but not significant pain. The needles used for acupuncture are very different from those used in injections, or blood tests. They are much finer and solid (rather than hollow), making them less painful to insert.
Acupuncture and Conventional Medicine
A lot of people use acupuncture when they find conventional medical treatments do not work for them. Others use acupuncture alongside more conventional treatment, as a way of enhancing their existing treatment, and speeding their recovery.
Some people find that their medical treatment is causing unwanted side effects, and therefore they may try acupuncture as an alternative.
Conditions Which Acupuncture Can Help Treat
Because there is a lack of high-quality research into the effectiveness of acupuncture, it is very difficult to be certain which conditions and problems acupuncture can successfully treat.
Acupuncture does encourage the body to release natural painkilling substances (endorphins), which means that it is most effective in easing symptoms of pain and discomfort.
Acupuncture can also provide relief for:
- dental pain
- neck pain
- chronic (long-lasting) back pain
- post-operative pain
- nausea (particularly chemotherapy-induced nausea).
Acupuncture is a very safe form of treatment that has few side effects. Acupuncture should not make a condition worse and, following treatment, symptoms should either remain the same, or they should improve.
British Acupuncture Council
The copyright of the article An Introduction to Acupuncture in Natural Medicine is owned by Jen Syrkiewicz.