Who has acupuncture?
Many people come to acupuncture for help with specific symptoms or to relieve specific pains like osteoarthritis of the knee.
Some use acupuncture because they feel generally unwell but have no obvious diagnosis. Others choose acupuncture simply to enhance their feeling of wellbeing.
Acupuncture is considered suitable for all ages including babies and children. It can be used effectively alongside conventional medicine.
Is acupuncture safe?
Acupuncture treatment is a completely natural, holistic and a very safe form of healing. One of the striking advantages of acupuncture is that it is drug-free and there are no bad side effects, however you may feel a little different initially as the body begins to re-adjust and heal.
Only sterile needles are used for the treatments. Those needles come in sterile containers and are used only once, and then disposed of in a sealed container immediately after use. They are usually left in for approximately 20 minutes depending on the complaint.
Is acupuncture painful?
Some people may be afraid of needles and assume that acupuncture is painful. Actually there is no pain. The needles used for acupuncture are much thinner than ones used for giving injections or taking blood, as such you will feel very little, if indeed anything at all, when they are inserted.
Note: There is nothing inside the needle, they are just very fine, smooth stainless steel which stimulates your own medicine within your own body.
What does it feel like?
When the very thin needles reach the acupuncture points, there is a sensation that could be described as tingling or numbing, rather than as ‘painful’.
Sometimes you may feel the sensation of soreness, heaviness, distension, or pressure during the course of needle insertion. These sensations may also be transferred along the acupuncture channels to another part of the body. None of these typical sensations could be described as painful.
How does it work?
Each organ in the body has an associated ‘meridian’ which is a specific pathway on the skin. Each acupuncture point has a very specific anatomical location and unique action on the organ system that it connects to.
Acupuncture works to help to maintain your body’s equilibrium by regulating the flow of energy (Qi or Chi). The treatment is aimed at the root cause of your condition as well as your symptoms. It helps with resolving your problem at the root thus eliminating the resulting unwanted symptoms and enhancing your feeling of wellbeing.
Biomedical research has begun to investigate how acupuncture works from the western point of view and has suggested some theories based on the neurology of pain. None of them yet explain the effects of acupuncture adequately but research that looks at a combination of psychology, neurology and immunology may be beginning to understand the wide ranging benefits that acupuncture can deliver.
Modern research shows that acupuncture can effect most of the body’s systems: The nervous system, muscle tone, hormone outputs, circulation, antibody production and allergic responses, as well as respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive systems.
What are the After-effects of acupuncture?
Most people find acupuncture relaxing and often feel very calm after a treatment (endorphins are released naturally). You may feel a little tired or sleepy and should take this into account if you are planning to drive or use heavy machinery straight after your treatment.
You should refrain from vigorous exercise after treatment and, ideally, give yourself a little time to rest. It is also advisable not to drink alcohol for several hours after treatment, avoid a hot bath and don’t eat a heavy meal.
The most common after effects of acupuncture are things everyone wants: better sleep, more energy, mental clarity, better digestion and less stress. One or several of these after effects occur routinely for many, many acupuncture patients.
There are some other possible effects of acupuncture that can occur and are good to be aware of, none are life-threatening and all typically are fleeting. However If you do experience them, you will know they are normal and nothing to be concerned about.
What are the worst symptoms?
While most people notice a marked improvement in their symptoms following acupuncture, some may feel worse before they start feeling better. In natural medicine circles this is sometimes referred to as a healing crisis. As your body starts undergoing the changes involved in moving towards better health things get stirred up (e.g. nausea, headache, bowel movement). This can cause not only an exacerbation of current symptoms but also the recurrence of previous ailments that had been dormant.
Acupuncture awakens your self-healing capabilities. With that can come an onslaught of bodily awareness. This is usually a positive experience but it can also mean heightened sensitivity or intolerance for things that previously felt normal. An example of this is someone who unconsciously adapts to stress by tightening and hunching up the shoulders. After an acupuncture treatment, once this person’s bodily felt sense has been woken up, the mild upper back and neck tension might start reacting.
The good news about this side effect is that it is a sign that things are moving. In the case of acupuncture, this means that the primary objective is being met. That is, you are starting to transition on multiple levels from ‘stuck to unstuck’.
How will I feel afterwards?
People can feel wiped out after acupuncture. A more common result is increased energy but sometimes the effect of tiredness can hang on a little longer. This is your body telling you that it’s depleted. Feeling fatigued after acupuncture is not cause for concern but it is a warning sign that you need to rest.
If you have this experience, take it easy for the remainder of the day. Go to bed early. Come morning, the combination of acupuncture and rest will leave you feeling ‘born again’.
Will I be sore?
Body parts where tiny acupuncture needles are inserted may feel slightly sore after the needles are removed. (In some bony areas of the hands and feet for example). You may also experience muscle soreness away from the needling site if a trigger point is released during your treatment.
Soreness from acupuncture typically dissipates within 24 hours. However, big trigger point releases can cause residual soreness that lasts for a few days. You will be warned about this before you leave your treatment if these trigger points are used.
Will I have any bruising?
Although less common than soreness, bruising can occur although it is very rare, at the needling site. Sometimes bruising is the result of a hematoma, a localized collection of blood that gets initiated when the needle punctures the skin. Bruises, unfortunately, usually last longer than soreness from an acupuncture needle. They generally are not anything to worry about beyond the aesthetic inconvenience. If it is after a facial acupuncture treatment, a small dot of Arnica cream on the area will remedy it.
It is unknown why some people bruise from acupuncture. I have one regular patient who, no matter what I try in terms of needle brand, size or technique, bruises very slightly every time, whereas the majority of patients never experience bruising, anywhere, at all.
Some people may experience involuntary muscle twitching during or after acupuncture. I’ve seen this occur in muscles that receive acupuncture needles and on seemingly random parts of the body that are far away from any needle points.
Muscle twitching is different from full-on muscle spasm. If during an acupuncture treatment you feel that one of your muscles is twitching, especially if it’s a muscle that was just needled, tell me straight away as I will be able to release it before you leave.
Will I feel light-headed?
This is very rare but can happen. Getting up quickly from the acupuncture table can cause light-headedness, so can coming for acupuncture on an empty stomach. Remember that light eating is one of the key things to remember before an acupuncture appointment.
When your acupuncture session is over, take your time getting up and move gently as you gather your things to leave. If you find yourself feeling lightheaded after the treatment, sit down for a few minutes, drink some water and take some deep breaths.
Acupuncture can be a physically and emotionally intense experience and sometimes our bodies are not fully recovered at exactly the moment our treatment is up. It is perfectly okay if you need a little extra time.
Will I feel emotional?
Sometimes people cry in acupuncture. Not because they are in pain but because of their emotions become free flowing. These emotions often get stifled while powering through life.
The emotional release that can happen in acupuncture is a positive experience, but it can be surprising, especially for people who tend to be more emotionally stoical.
Feeling extra sensitive or ‘tear prone’ in an acupuncture session, or in the days that follow, is completely normal. It is also a sign that the acupuncture is working. Even if you’re seeking acupuncture for a physical ailment, increased emotional expression is an indication that healing is happening. From an acupuncture perspective, physical and emotional health are interconnected, so emotional shifts suggest forthcoming physical changes as well.
While these side effects are rarely cause for concern, you know your body best. If any of the above side effects feel like they’re too severe or lasting too long—or if you notice any additional negative reactions to an acupuncture treatment—you should contact me straight away.
Can I bring someone with me?
Yes of course you can, as long as they are quiet when I am treating you.
Should my doctor know I am coming for acupuncture?
If you have been prescribed medication, we recommend that you tell your doctor that you are planning to have acupuncture. Do not stop taking your medication. You should always tell your acupuncturist about any medication and supplements that you are taking as this may affect your response to the acupuncture treatment.
BAcC acupuncturists are trained to recognise potentially serious underlying health conditions and may refer you to your GP if they consider it appropriate.
More and more GP’s are sending their patients for acupuncture treatments.
How many sessions are needed?
There is often a noticeable benefit after the first or second sessions but for a stable long term improvement, it generally takes a series of treatments. Within 5 or 6 sessions, some change is usually felt.
Overall, how many sessions are needed and how frequently, depends on your individual condition and to the fact that each of us respond differently to treatment, which is true for all types of medicines.
Some people choose to have regular acupuncture to maintain a good health as a preventative holistic measure and to improve their general sense of wellbeing (e.g. seasonal treatments).
What is cupping?
Cupping is a technique often used for muscular-skeletal problems and chest congestion. A cup, usually made of glass, is flamed – the air inside is heated quickly with a lighted taper. This is then placed onto the affected region (often on the back or over a large muscle area). As the air inside the cup cools, the skin and flesh covered by the mouth of the cup is subjected to a steady suction that relaxes the underlying muscle.
Cupping can sometimes temporarily mark the skin. Such bruising is painless and generally clears within a day or two.
What is moxibustion?
Moxibustion is a traditional type of acupuncture using moxa, the dried leaves of the herb Mugwort, either alone or mixed with other herbs. In one form, a spongy substance known as moxa wool or loose moxa is moulded around the handle of the acupuncture needle and burned. The moxa wool can also be moulded into a ball the size of a grain of rice. This is placed, either directly onto the skin to burn, and creates a tiny blister or on top of ginger, salt or garlic depending on the result desired. Special moxibustion cups may be used for this technique. Alternatively, a moxa roll (like a cigar) can be lit and held over an acupuncture point to warm it.
In 2009, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommended that acupuncture should be made available on the NHS, as a cost effective-short-term treatment for the management of early, persistent non-specific back pain.
You can get more information on scientific research into the effectiveness of acupuncture by visiting www.acupuncture.org.uk or by speaking to BAcC acupuncturist.