What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is one of the most widely practiced complementary medical treatments in the UK and is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for chronic lower back pain, chronic tension-type headaches and migraines.  Besides traditional acupuncturists like us, acupuncture is also provided by GPs, physiotherapists, nurses and midwives.   

Acupuncture originated in China and involves the insertion of fine sterilised needles into the skin at locations in the body known as acupuncture points.  It remains a key part of the healthcare system in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong where it is often integrated alongside biomedical treatments for a number of health problems.   

What happens during an acupuncture treatment?

Most of us associate needles with injection or syringe needles.  Acupuncture needles are quite different and are much thinner - about the thickness of a strand of hair.  Many of our previous patients have undergone their very first acupuncture treatment with us.  One of the most common remarks is that the sensation of the needles are pleasant rather than painful with most patients describing feelings of tingling, gentle pressure or heaviness. 

We tailor our treatments to each person but as rule of thumb, acupuncture is usually carried out on the torso (the back or the abdomen), the forearms or lower legs.  To help us access these areas easily, we recommend wearing loose and comfortable clothing such as a T-shirt or jogging bottoms that can be easily pulled up or removed.   

Once the acupuncture needles are in place, you will be asked to relax for around 30 minutes.  The acupuncture needles will be removed at the end of the treatment and many patients describe feeling a deep sense of relaxation following the session. 

Who can use acupuncture?

Acupuncture has received recognition for a range of healthcare conditions through the release of official reports by international health committees such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2002 and more recently the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in 2012.  

These publications recommend that acupuncture be considered for a number of conditions with the strongest support for conditions such as:

  • Lower back pain, tension-type headaches, migraines (NICE 2009)
  • Post-operative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting (NIH 1997)
  • Nausea of pregnancy (NIH 1997)
  • Post-operative dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction (NIH 1997, WHO 2002).
  • Menstrual cramps, morning sickness, breech presentation during pregnancy, labour induction (NIH 1997, WHO 2002)
  • Tennis elbow (NIH 1997, WHO 2002)
  • Fibromyalgia (NIH 1997, WHO 2002)
  • Osteoarthritis of the knee, neck pain (WHO 2002)
  • Allergic rhinitis including hayfever (WHO 2002)

The popularity of acupuncture has grown immensely in the last 20 years.  Although a vast amount of research has been carried out in China, high quality studies are still needed in the UK to allow patients and healthcare professionals make more informed choices regarding the conditions and symptoms for which acupuncture is most effective.