Acupuncture -Your Questions Answered

May 16, 2020

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is traditionally a Chinese Medicine Technique that involves the insertion of fine stainless steel needles into the skin. At our clinic we use a form of acupuncture called Western Acupuncture which uses the same type of needles but treatment is based on a western medical diagnosis. A further variation used in the clinic is called “dry needling” in which the needle is used to stimulate anatomically based targets in the tissues such as muscles, tendons or fascia rather than specific acupuncture points.

How Does Acupuncture Work?

Several scientific explanations for how acupuncture work exist:

Acupuncture stimulates the body to produce it’s own pain and stress relieving chemicals such as endorphins and oxytocin.  Melatonin can also be released which can help sleep and the release of serotonin which encourages a sense of well being.

Acupuncture can also directly stimulate nerve fibres in the skin and muscle. Stimulation of these nerves causes nerve impulses to spread around the local network of nerve fibres and various substances are released  causing local blood vessels to dilate causing an increase in local blood flow. This increased blood flow encourages tissue healing.

The nerve impulses produced  by the needle also travel along the nerves to a part of the spinal cord called the dorsal horn that can control the nervous systems  response to a painful stimuli. This effect is called the ‘segmental effect’ of acupuncture and is one of the main ways  acupuncture can relieve pain.

 Tim's Top Tip

We can usually tell quite quickly if acupuncture is going to be of benefit. Usually we look to have produced significant improvement within three sessions.

When a muscle is overworked or overloaded it can develop a small area of injury which can be slow to heal and cause ongoing pain. These small knots which develop within taut bands of muscle are called Trigger Points. This is a controversial area as many scientists dispute that trigger points exist but in the reality of treating people with apparent obvious trigger points with acupuncture, the majority improve dramatically with needling the tender areas.

Can Anyone Have Acupuncture?

There are certain health conditions that may stop you receiving acupuncture or mean that the treatment should be used with caution. It is important to let your physiotherapist know:

  • If you have ever experienced a fit, seizure, faint or if you have epilepsy;
  • If you have a pacemaker or any other electrical implant;
  • If you have a bleeding disorder e.g. haemophilia;
  • If you are taking anti-coagulants or any other medication;
  • If you have damage to heart valves, or have any risk of active infections;
  • If you are pregnant or trying to conceive;
  • If you have a known metal allergy – specifically to stainless steel;
  • If you have a needle phobia;
  • If you have a known infection or poor skin condition in the area to be treated;
  • If you have a deficient or weakened immune system;
  • If you have diabetes;
  • If you have low blood pressure;
  • If you have been prescribed any medicine;
  • If you have cold/flu symptoms or feel generally unwell.

What Happens in an Acupuncture Session?

Firstly it can be a good idea to make sure you have something to eat 1-2 hours before your treatment. This will help reduce the risk of you feeling faint during your session by keeping your sugar levels up.

When you first see your physiotherapist, he or she will take your full medical history and ask you about your current health problems and the physiotherapist will check there are no medical reasons why the session shouldn’t go ahead.

Between 1 to 10 needles may be used at a time at an acupuncture session. The number of needles used will vary according to your condition and symptoms.

The needles are inserted through the skin either at the sites where you feel pain, away from the pain or a combination of both. The needles are usually left in for a few minutes up to 30 minutes. During the treatment, your physiotherapist may stimulate the needles by gently rotating them. This is done to increase the treatment’s effectiveness.

The needles are removed at the end of the session. You will then be asked to rest for a few minutes before you leave.

How Many Sessions Will I Need?

The overall number of treatment sessions required will depend on you, your condition and your physiotherapist’s assessment.

Most patients receive a course of 4-6 treatments although just one or two treatments may be enough. Sometimes 1 or 2 ‘top up’ treatments are required.

Treatments are normally given at 1-2 weekly intervals. It is generally clear after a few sessions whether or not acupuncture will benefit you and if the treatment should be continued.

How Long Before I See Improvement

The effects of acupuncture treatments are cumulative: different people respond in different ways and at different rates. Some people may feel an immediate relief of their symptoms whilst others may only see a gradual improvement after a few treatments. Some people may find that their condition/symptoms flare up for up to 24 hours after the treatment but then see a marked improvement.

Although acupuncture can help reduce pain, particularly when other more conventional treatments have failed, it does not work for everyone. Our own clinic success statistics show that 60-70% of patients having acupuncture as part of their treatment report an excellent or good response.

Is Acupuncture Safe?

Acupuncture is a very safe procedure when carried out by fully qualified professionals. All  physiotherapists at our clinics that use acupuncture are members of the AACP (Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists) and are qualified to deliver acupuncture and have undergone a recognised accredited training course in acupuncture. This in addition to his three year study as a physiotherapist.

The needles used by your physiotherapist are sterile and disposed of after one use.

Acupuncture is safe when practised by a member of the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP) because of the strict hygiene guidelines that must be adhered to, and the training courses and educational updates that are required in order to stay on the membership register.

The needles used are individually packaged, sterile and disposed of in a sharps container after one use.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Any side effects tend to be mild and short lived. They may include fatigue, light headedness, minor bruising, redness around the needle site. The most common side effects are actually quite pleasant as many patients report a deep sleep on the night of treatment, a feeling of relaxation and generally feeling well in themselves.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?

Our most commonly asked question!!! Basically no, it shouldn’t be painful. The needles are very fine and much thinner than an injection needle. Most people hardly feel the needle enter the skin and then just feel a slight sensation around the needle site. The vast majority of people trying acupuncture for the first time say that it was surprisingly non painful and they wish they had tried it years ago!

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