Acupuncture

We will sometimes use acupuncture during your care, as an adjunct to Osteopathy, mainly to help with pain relief, which acupuncture is extremely effective for.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a treatment that consists in pricking the patient with a special needle. It developed in China about 2,000 years ago. Traditional Chinese acupuncture uses a complicated system of ancient ideas that are not easy for most of us to understand or accept today. However, many modern Western practitioners find that acupuncture can be understood in scientific terms. This makes it easier to use in a Western setting and it is becoming increasingly acceptable here. Many hospitals today offer acupuncture to their patients and the British Medical Acupuncture Society has over 2500 members.

How does it work?

We cannot yet explain this in detail but we do have some clues.

  • In many cases the acupuncturist makes use of “trigger points”. These are areas, usually in muscle, that hurt when pressed and cause pain to radiate to other places that may be some distance away from the trigger point. Needling the trigger point can relieve pain in these distant areas, although we do not know exactly how this happens.
  • Acupuncture can still work even when there are no trigger points. In such cases it probably acts by changing the ways in which the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is transmitting information about pain.
  • It is important to understand that acupuncture does have measurable effects on the body even though we can’t explain them all in detail. You don’t have to believe in it for it to work!

In general, acupuncture is good for pain, especially pain in the muscles and joints (including some kinds of arthritis). It can also help in a range of other disorders, including headaches and migraine, some allergies, painful periods, and ulcerative colitis.

Does it hurt?

Acupuncture is usually not pain-free. However, it is no more painful than an ordinary injection or blood test and in many cases it is less painful than these. As a rule it is necessary to produce a little pain to achieve an improvement but some people feel nothing at all. Oddly enough, you may even find that acupuncture makes you feel relaxed and happy. If this happens it probably means that you are a good acupuncture subject and are likely to benefit from this form of treatment. (If it doesn’t happen to you, however, that is not a bad sign; you may do well anyway.)

Can it cause any harm?

Acupuncture carries the same risks as any other medical procedure involving needles, such as damage to internal organs or structures, though this is rare. To put it in perspective, the risk of harm occurring as the result of acupuncture is probably less than the risk of taking aspirin or an anti-inflammatory drug for arthritis (these drugs can cause bleeding). This assumes, of course, that the acupuncture is performed by someone with an adequate knowledge of anatomy and medicine.

Are there any particular adverse effects I should look out for?

Sometimes a small bruise appears where the needle was inserted. This isn’t serious; it just means that a little vein was broken by the needle. There is no need to do anything about it; it will go away by itself.

Some patients find that their symptoms become temporarily worse for a short time after acupuncture. This is termed an aggravation. Tell the person who is treating you about this next time you come; it may be possible to avoid the aggravation in future by treating you more lightly, with fewer needles or for a shorter time. But some people will get an a mild aggravation every time they have acupuncture. In general, aggravation is followed by an improvement, so it is quite a good sign.

Some degree of drowsiness after acupuncture is fairly common. This may make driving or operating machinery dangerous, so patients should generally not drive themselves home after treatment, particularly on the first occasion. Sometimes drowsiness does not occur after the first treatment but does occur on a subsequent occasion, and it is also possible for the onset of drowsiness to occur later in the day, some hours after treatment. Patients who have had acupuncture should therefore be cautious about driving for the rest of the day and should be prepared for their reflexes to be slower than normal.

This list does not exhaust all the adverse effects that have been reported but it does summarize the commonest ones. If you have any particular anxieties about the treatment you should discuss them with the person who is going to treat you.

Can acupuncture transmit Aids or hepatitis?

No, because all the needles are disposed of after use. There is therefore no possibility that infection could be transmitted.

How soon will I notice an improvement?

Some patients notice partial or even complete relief as soon as the needle is put in but this is exceptional. Most find that improvement takes longer to appear – sometimes later the same day, or perhaps up to two or three days.

txt gratefully used with permission from Dr Anthony Campbell, MRCP(UK), FF.Hom., Dip.Med.Ac., Emeritus Consultant Physician, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital who gave exemplary and demystifying acupuncture training.