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What is acupuncture?

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine which involves the insertion of very fine needles at key points (known as acupuncture points) into the body. In the UK, acupuncture is one of the most popular and well-established complementary therapies, with approximately 3 million people undergoing this kind of treatment each year.

Acupuncture helps the body to release its natural painkillers, known as ‘endorphins’. It can also help stimulate nerve and muscle tissue. Science cannot explain everything about acupuncture, and further research is required before it can be fully understood.

Acupuncture is a very safe form of treatment, which has few side effects, or complications.

Treatment might be once a week to begin with, then at longer intervals as the condition responds. A typical course of treatment will be 6 sessions but could last up to 10 sessions if you find it useful.

What can it be used for?

Painful conditions

Studies have shown that acupuncture is most effective in helping ease the symptoms of the following conditions: migraine, headache, dental pain, neck pain, chronic (long-lasting) back pain, post-operative pain, and nausea (particularly chemotherapy-induced nausea).

Although these are some of the only conditions which studies have conclusively proven to be affected by acupuncture, many people have found that the treatment has helped them with other conditions and health-related problems.

Studies have shown that acupuncture may have a limited effect on other conditions, although further research is needed before its effect can be proven. These conditions include: fatigue, digestive disorders, anxiety, depression, insomnia, asthma, and hay fever.

Acupuncture is a very safe form of treatment that has few side effects. Although some studies have not produced conclusive evidence about its effectiveness, many people are still willing to try acupuncture, particularly as there are few risks involved. Acupuncture should not make your condition worse and, following treatment, your symptoms should either remain the same, or for about 80 percent of people they improve.

Is acupuncture safe?

Acupuncture has a low incidence of serious adverse events. An extensive worldwide literature search identified only 193 adverse events (including relatively minor events such as bruising and dizziness) over 15 years. The more serious events were usually related to poor practice – for example, cases of hepatitis B infection typically involved bad hygiene and unregistered practitioners. Here at Sheffield Children’s, hygiene is practiced to the highest standards, all needles are sterile, used once and thrown away. Acupuncture will only be done by someone accredited by either The Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP), The British Acupuncture Council (BacC), The British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) or The British Academy of Western Medical Acupuncture (BAWMA).

It is safe for most people but you should tell the practitioner if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Are taking blood thinning medicine
  • Are haemophiliac
  • Are diabetic
  • Have a heart problem suffer from allergies
  • Have epilepsy
  • Have a cold
  • Have hepatitis B
  • Are HIV positive

What does the treatment involve?

The first visit will take about one hour, much of this time will be taken up by talking and being examined. A proposed treatment plan will be explained and if everybody agrees a consent form will be signed. You should always have something to eat at least one hour before attending for a treatment.

Inserting the needles

There are over 500 acupuncture points on the body. During an acupuncture session, up to 10 to 12 acupuncture points are used. The points used may differ from session to session, as your treatment progresses.

During an acupuncture session, you will normally be asked to sit, or lie down. You may also be asked to remove some parts of your clothing, so that we can access the relevant acupuncture points on your body.

Once your practitioner has identified which points are going to be used, a number of ultra-fine needles are placed into the points. They are normally inserted between half a centimetre to several centimetres into your skin. These needles are single-use, pre-sterilised needles, which are disposed of immediately after use.

The needles are left in for up to 30 minutes. Some people feel dizzy when the needles are put in. The needles might produce a tingling sensation, dull ache, warmth or no sensation at all.

After the treatment you might feel drowsy or alternatively slightly elated. Very occasionally the pain relief starts straight away, many people gain benefit over the next day or so. 80 percent of patients feel benefit from treatment. How long the pain relief lasts is very variable from a few days to never needing another treatment. Again occasionally your symptoms might worsen for a few hours but this is generally a good sign that you will respond well to treatment.

We would be really grateful for your comments on the information you are given, on the treatment you receive and of course the benefit you feel that acupuncture gives you.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: PAI5

Resource Type: Article

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