Acupuncture - benefits and safety
On this page
- How does it work?
- What are the health benefits?
- Does it hurt?
- What to expect during a treatment
- Is it safe?
- Are there any side effects?
- Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Common questions
Acupuncture involves the use of very fine needles that are inserted into specific points on the body, along meridians or channels to activate the Qi (pronounced chee - energy) to restore good health.
It is still used in East Asia today to treat a variety of health care problems. Over the last 20-30 years, this ancient holistic therapy has gained increased popularity in western countries. It is now used in western countries as an alternative medicine to treat common conditions, such as pain, anxiety, stress, digestive disorders and male/female infertility.
Even though this is an ancient therapy, it is classified in western countries as a complementary or alternative therapy. There are now several different types of acupuncture practised in western countries. A new style is dry needling, which was invented in the last few decades by western medicine doctors and doesn't exist in East Asia. Medical acupuncturists don't believe in the flow of qi (life force) or the flow of energy.
It's been used in the Far East to restore, promote and maintain good health for over 2,500 years. The earliest known texts describing acupuncture goes back to 198 BCE within the Ma-Wang-Dui tomb in China. The ancient Chinese have used it to treat a wide range of conditions.
The original form was likely to have been developed from Shamanism and is now a part of traditional Chinese medicine. The first needles were made from stone and then later from bronze, gold and silver.
It's likely that it originated from massage, where people would massage a point on the body and notice an affect in another part of the body. Over thousands of years before the written word was invented this developed into a form of medicine with its own theory and channels of movement. Countries that use this ancient system of healthcare include China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other Asian countries.
The first known medical textbook was 'The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine', which dates from around 300 BC. It continued to develop without interruption for the next 2,400 years into a complete system of healthcare that can treat many health problems.
The most important theories are yin and yang and the flow of energy around the body, called qi (energy). Energy moves from one organ to another throughout the day, known as the Chinese body clock. Each organ moves energy to the other in the Five Element sequence of energy transformation.
3. How acupuncture works
Ancient Chinese theory believes acupuncture treatment works by regulating the body's flow of energy and bodily fluids such as blood flow and yin and yang on the human body.
The acupuncture points are located across the whole body, from head to toe. Each acupoint is connected to another by a channel called a meridian. By stimulating specific points with a needle or finger, it elicits a healing response somewhere else in the body.
Scientific evidence suggests that it works by regulating neuromodulation, such as vagus nerve stimulation and has been used for inflammation control and uses body natural pain killers for pain treatment. It also stimulates the immune system to produce a healing response.
A more modern theory that originated in Korea using advanced science has found these meridians within the lymphatic system. They were missed by anatomists hundreds of years ago. It's believed that the insertion of a needles along the lymphatic system creates a healing response within the immune system.
Watch my animated video below, which explains how my acupuncture works.
4. Health benefits
It is a complete medical system and has been used in East Asia (China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc) for thousands of years to treat a wide range of health problems. In western countries, it is fast becoming an alternative treatment option for a variety of health complaints.
The benefits of this traditional holistic therapy is to restore a natural balance within the body by regulating energy and blood flow and balancing yin and yang. It does this by using sterile needles into specific acupoints on the body.
Evidence based research has shown that it has a benefit upon the immune system, regulating hormones, including stress and fertility and act upon the brain to reduce pain.
What can it treat?
It is an effective treatment for a multitude of chronic conditions commonly seen today. For example, studies show it can help with:
- Relieve pain to reduce the need for pain medication
- Relieve insomnia
- Improve male and female fertility
- Relieve tinnitus
- Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
- Improves libido
- Reduce menopausal symptoms
- Is anti-inflammatory
- Helps clear acne
- Restores sense of smell
- Relieves IBS
- Reduce dementia and improve cognitive behaviour
- Improves type II diabetes
- Relieves carpal tunnel syndrome
There is more and more research published on the national institute of health website that supports the use of this ancient treatment for modern health problems.
5. Is it painful?
Generally no, treatment doesn't hurt. The acupuncture needles are so fine, like the width of a hair. You can fit 20 acupuncture pins into a syringe.
Some people may feel the acupuncture needles go in, but it's not painful, you just notice it, like a little prick and others will feel nothing. That's how it's been for thousands of years. The needle is inserted very quickly. Once the needle is in, you may feel a dull ache or a tingling sensation, which is normal.
Having a needle inserted into the fingers or toes may feel sharp but this will only last a second or two. Removing the needles doesn't hurt either.
6. What to expect
During your acupuncture session, you will start with a consultation where you will be asked questions about the problem and all aspects of your life. You will then be asked to lie down on a couch and roll up your sleeves and trousers legs.
Very thin needles, the size of a human hair will be inserted stimulating the body's energy points. The pins are inserted from 2mm to 4cm depending on the area.
Normal sensations include a dullness, tingling or electrical sensation. Sometimes you may feel a sharp sensation which is the needle breaking the skin badly.
You'll then be allowed to rest with the needles left in position for around 20 to 30 minutes. Normally, relaxing music will be played to you.
After 25 to 30 minutes, the healthcare professional will remove the pins and they will be placed in a sharps box, which when full will be incinerated.
After finishing the treatment you can return back to your normal life.
A large-scale study published in 2009 found traditional acupuncture to be very safe after reviewing over 229,230 treatments.
According to the evidence from 12 prospective clinical trials which surveyed more than a million treatments, the risk of a serious side effects with is estimated to be 0.05 per 10 000 treatments and 0.55 per 10,000 individual patients. This is very low in complementary medicine. It is safe to have if you have a bleeding disorder.
It is not safe when it's given by a poorly qualified practitioner who hasn't had enough training, for example dry needling in pain clinics.
8. Side effects
Acupuncture treatment generally has minimal side effects. These minimal side effects include minor bruising, itching or redness where the needles was inserted. All of the minor side effects will go after a few days.
Having bruising after treatment doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you, it's just a local problem of the skin hitting a blood vessel causing the bruising. In cases where there is bruising to the skin, it will fade away after a few days and won't be a problem.
9. Pregnancy and breastfeeding
It is safe to have in pregnancy when given by a properly qualified healthcare professional. In actual fact it can help your baby, ensuring it grows healthy and can be used at the end of the pregnancy to ensure a better labour.
Always make sure that your acupuncturist is qualified to treat pregnant women.
Experienced acupuncturists will never insert a needle on your abdomen or in points that are contraindicated during pregnancy, for example Sanyinjiao - SP 6.