Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is one of the oldest forms of healthcare in the world. It has its roots in the East where it was practiced, tested, refined and documented over centuries. Acupuncture is an important part of TCM; it involves the insertion of needles into the skin and underlying tissues in key ‘points’ in the body. The theory behind the therapy is that certain “trigger points” – probably nerve fibres or receptors – are stimulated with needles which are thought to induce rhythmic discharges that cause a release of endogenous opioids and oxytocin. The overall aim of acupuncture treatment, is to restore the body's equilibrium.
The concept of Qi underpins all Chinese Medicine theory. This is the belief that Qi – our vital life force – flows through our bodies in channels called meridians. The theory is that for us to feel good health, Qi needs to flow abundantly and freely through these channels. If Qi is blocked or depleted, then we will feel the symptoms of ill health.
Chinese Medicine theory applies to all forms of ill health, whether it manifests as physical or mental/emotional symptoms. The belief that physical, mental and spiritual health need to co-exist for us to feel overall health predominates as does the belief that one can affect the other so that mental illness can affect out physical health and physical illness can affect out mental health.
The insertion of the needles into acupuncture points is believed to affect the flow of your body’s Qi, re-balancing and reinforcing it and encouraging the body to move itself towards better health.
Information and Research
There are many areas where acupuncture has been used effectively and if you look at the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, the British Acupuncture Council website or the NICE website, you can see the current research. You can find research fact sheets on the following at the BAcC website:
• Endometriosis • Female fertility • Infertility ART • Male infertility • Menopausal Symptoms • Nausea and vomiting • Pre-menstrual syndrome
As well as these areas, research has been carried out on conditions such as anxiety, stress and back pain, all of which can relate to fertility. Treatment methods have been established for working with assisted fertility and IVF. Many people come to acupuncture for help with specific symptoms or to relieve specific pains like osteoarthritis of the knee, for example. Some use acupuncture because they feel generally unwell but have no obvious diagnosis. Others choose acupuncture simply to enhance their feeling of wellbeing. Click here to see the latest research in acupuncture.
Who Can Acupuncture Help?
Acupuncture is considered suitable for all ages, including babies and children. It can be used effectively alongside conventional medicine. People initially seek acupuncture for a wide variety of reasons. They may choose acupuncture when they can feel their bodily functions are out of balance, but they have no obvious diagnosis. And many have regular treatments because they find it so relaxing.
Acupuncture treatment is holistic which means that the focus is on you as an individual as opposed to the symptoms which have led to you seek treatment. The first consultation is a detailed process of discussing both your main symptoms (the primary complaint) but also what may seem like unrelated matters such your lifestyle, sleep patterns, emotional wellbeing and health history. All these details are used to build up an overall picture of your health and where, according to the paradigm of Chinese Medicine, the imbalance in your health may lie.
What to Expect
Acupuncture needles are tiny. Some patients report feeling the needles being inserted – generally described as a small pinprick sensation - others feel nothing. Sterile, one-use only needles are inserted into the skin with the help of a guide tube (a tiny plastic tube) which is placed on the skin and helps to steady and guide the needle, a process which minimises feeling of discomfort. Beyond the initial insertion, the sensation reported by patients is described as a tingling, a dull ache, a pulling sensation, warmth or an electrical sensation. Some patients, on the other hand, feel nothing at all and others have been known to fall asleep on the treatment couch!
Is It Safe?
There are very few side effects from acupuncture when practised by a fully qualified practitioner of traditional acupuncture. Any minor side effects that do occur, such as dizziness or bruising around points, are mild and self-correcting.
How Many Treatments Will I Need?
There is no hard and fast rule about the duration of treatment. As a rule of thumb, patients who have an acute injury tend to need fewer treatments than those who have a chronic or longstanding complaint. Weekly sessions are quite usual to begin with, for perhaps four to six treatments, reducing in frequency as your body responds.
Practitioners: Hannah Swift