Today is the start of Acupuncture awareness week. The British acupuncture council are keen to get the message out to the public about what acupuncture is and what treatment can offer. Although most people have heard of acupuncture, for many it might seem an odd approach to health treatment. Some also may not relish the thought of someone sticking needles in them! Below are the four main questions that most people want answered before considering acupuncture.
What is it?
The longer I practice acupuncture, the harder I find it to answer this question but here goes. Acupuncturists use very fine needle to stimulate certain points around the body. We locate the points using physiological and anatomical landmarks. (There are around 360 different points!) When the points are stimulated (the acupuncturist gives the needle a little twiddle) the patient feels an achy feeling at the site of the needle. The acupuncturist decide which points to use following a (sometimes very complex) diagnosis based on the principles of traditional chinese medicine but also using our knowledge of western conventional medicine.
How does it work?
The modern scientific explanation is that needling the acupuncture points stimulates the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal chord and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience of pain or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones which influence the body’s own internal regulating system.
The traditional Chinese medicine texts use the language of qi and the meridian system. The concept of qi is vast and should be regarded as a metaphor or a physiological abstraction. If qi is flowing correctly in the channels then the body is in balance. It simply means that if body systems are functioning correctly then the person will be healthy. When the flow of qi is disrupted, the person will experience illness. The flow of qi is disrupted by either external factors such as environment, viruses (“external pathogenic factors”) or by internal imbalances in body systems that have become depleted i.e overeating leading to deficiencies in the Stomach and Spleen….I could go on for ever here! Chinese medicine is simple yet vastly complex.
Does it hurt?
Absolutely not and the additional benefit is that most patients will end up having a little doze whilst the needles are in situ. It’s a very pleasant feeling of relaxation (which in this day and age is difficult to achieve).
Is it safe?
Treatment from a properly qualified acupuncturist registered with the BAcC is very safe. Occasional side effects include feeling a bit sleepy, emotional or getting a headache. Sometimes a small bruise occurs where the needle has been placed. A report on the safety of acupuncture can be found here.