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.
Today, therefore, there are two main forms of acupuncture: traditional and modern.
We cannot yet explain this in detail but we do have some clues.
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.
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 and other problems). This assumes, of course, that the acupuncture is performed by someone with an adequate knowledge of anatomy and medicine.
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 a mild aggravation every time they have acupuncture. In general, aggravation is followed by an improvement, so it is quite a good sign.
As well as a temporary worsening of their symptoms, patients may sometimes have pain after acupuncture that is unconnected with their original complaint. This may be due to damage to a small nerve and is not totally preventable; it does not necessarily mean that the acuppuncture has been done incorrectly. Pain of this kind will usually pass off within a day or two.
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.
No, because all the needles are disposed of after use. There is therefore no possibility that infection could be transmitted.
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 later.
Sometimes one treatment is enough but this is unusual. Most people require a course of roughly 3 to 6 treatments. At first you may be asked to come back after one or two weeks; as improvement occurs the intervals between treatments may be made longer.Generally speaking, there should be at least some effect after two or three treatments. If nothing at all happens you are probably not going to respond to this form of treatment. You should never be asked to book in for a fixed number of treatments in advance, since the course of treatment is always unpredictable.
You may find that the effects of treatment vary from time to time. One treatment may help a lot, the next less or even not at all. Don't worry too much about this; provided there is a long-term trend towards improvement all is in order.
In general, acupuncture doesn't 'cure' diseases although it can give good relief, especially for pain. It is best thought of as a form of symptom relief. At the same time, if a disease is capable of recovering by itself it is likely that acupuncture can tip the balance towards recovery.
In many cases an occasional 'top-up' treatment is needed to maintain improvement. As a rule only one treatment is required for this, even if the initial course was longer. Patients appear to have individual patterns of relief which remain pretty constant. For example, you may find that it always takes 24 hours before you notice an improvement. And the duration of improvement - 8 weeks, 12 weeks, or whatever - is also fairly constant for a given patient.Back