26/09/2018 · 3 min read
Beginner’s Guide to Acupuncture
Have you ever wondered if your ailments could be cured without drugs? Have you ever wanted to improve your health through lifestyle rather than medication?
More and more people are turning to alternative therapies and medicines to try to find balance in their lives and improve their physical and mental health. With these therapies having been used for thousands of years and still staying popular, it’s no wonder that their influence is growing in the West.
What is Acupuncture?
Probably one of the most popular complementary therapies used in the Western world, acupuncture is even widely used in, and recommended by, the NHS.
Simply put, acupuncture is a therapy that involves;
‘…stimulating 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.’ – NHS
Ultra-fine sterile needles are used in certain points in the skin to stimulate nerves and treat certain conditions. The NHS mainly refer patients for acupuncture for migraines and chronic headaches, but they also acknowledge that it can be used to treat a wide range of ailments like musculoskeletal conditions and joint pain amongst other conditions.
In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is seen as a way of releasing blocked Qi (life force) and allowing it to flow properly through channels in the body. These channels are called ‘Meridians’ and it’s thought that when the Qi gets blocked, all manner of physical ailments can appear. Therefore, acupuncture is used to unblock these channels and resolve problems.
Does acupuncture work?
We tracked down this great video to illustrate the theory behind Western acupuncture:
While some traditional Chinese medicine practices lack the research to back them up, acupuncture has undergone a huge amount of research and medical studies over the decades. As a result, it’s recommended by the NHS in the UK as well as professional medical bodies throughout the world.
Many studies and meta-analyses have concluded that acupuncture is effective for treating chronic pain including back and neck pain. There are also indications that it can be used to treat osteoarthritis, nausea and many other conditions.
While many esteemed medical bodies and government-funded organisations do support the effectiveness of acupuncture, it is to be stressed that it should be used as a complementary therapy and not a cure by itself. This is to avoid situations where patients might postpone seeing their doctor and use only acupuncture instead.
How can I find an acupuncturist?
Because acupuncture has been so widely used for so long, finding a reputable acupuncturist shouldn’t be too difficult. Often working through physiotherapy, osteopathy and chiropractor practices, plenty of physical therapists are trained as acupuncturists and some medical doctors are as well.
Things to look out for when choosing an acupuncturist:
- Check to see if they’re on the British Acupuncture Council register
- They should offer an initial consultation to learn about your clinical history
- Read up on the types of acupuncture, to see if they offer what you’re looking for
- Their studio should be clean
- They should be able to answer any questions you have
What happens at your first acupuncture session?
Your first acupuncture session will be slightly different from any others than you have with the same practitioner. That’s because, as with all therapies, your acupuncturist needs to learn about your medical history, any problems you have and what your goals are from the session.
Without this information, they can’t offer any treatments!
Your first session then will start with an in-depth discussion and possibly an examination if there’s something in particular that you need treatment for.
You and your acupuncturist will discuss your history, your needs and they’ll be able to create a tailored treatment plan for you.
The session may then either end with you being booked in for your next session or you may move onto the acupuncture needling then and there.
There are many types of acupuncture as well as different needles and many different acupuncture points around the entire body. The way in which your acupuncturist treats you will entirely depend on the treatment plan that they have created for you and they should discuss it with you before proceeding.
Acupuncture needles are usually inserted when you are lying or sitting down and are left in for a wide range of time periods, depending on the need. Some needles may just be inserted for a few seconds, some for 30 minutes or more.
What results will you see?
The results you gain from acupuncture will depend on several factors. Firstly, what it is you are trying to treat and secondly, how good your acupuncturist is at creating and carrying out an effective treatment plan for your needs.
While acupuncture is commonly used to treat pain and muscle soreness, when used for more in-depth medical issues, its results may not live up to your expectations. Acupuncture efficacy is very much down to a combination of the person, the problem and the treatment.
Results can sometimes be felt immediately although for chronic pain and migraines, relief is often seen most obviously a few sessions down the line of the treatment plan.
Does acupuncture hurt?
A lot of people cannot separate the concepts of ‘needles’ and ‘pain’. Most of us only ever experience a needle being placed in our skin during blood tests, vaccinations or other shots.
But acupuncture needles don’t hurt at all, most of the time. Acupuncturists use different size needles for different conditions and applications, from extremely fine to larger gauge needles.
Some larger needles, combined with more traditional techniques, can cause slight pain when initially inserted. However, you can always ask your acupuncturist whether you’ll feel anything.
The majority of the time, acupuncture needles don’t cause any pain. Instead, you might feel other sensations like a slight tingling or a quick zing if the needle goes into a sensitive area. Some patients feel a gradual warmth emanate from the acupuncture needle sites.
Sensations vary from person to person and point to point. If you feel anything that you’re not sure you should be feeling, simply ask your acupuncturist.
In acupuncture that uses particularly fine needles, often in Japanese acupuncture, you might not feel anything at all.
Let us know in the comments or on social media how you find your first acupuncture session, we’d love to know!