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What is Acupuncture?: Acupuncture is an invasive procedure where fine needles are used in the treatment of musculoskeletal pain.  Acupuncture originated in traditional Chinese culture; however its ability to help relieve pain stimulated western interest. Western medical acupuncture uses the same needles and often the same acupuncture points as traditional Chinese acupuncture. The only difference is the theory underpinning the technique.

Western acupuncture has been clinically proven to help improve many musculoskeletal conditions, so much so that it is recommended in the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for lower back pain and endorsed by the World Health Organization (2003).

“Consider offering a course of acupuncture needling comprising up to a maximum of 10 sessions over a period of up to 12 weeks.” (NICE 2009)

Sam Whiteson AcupunctureWill it work for me?: Acupuncture is one of the many skills used within Physiotherapy as an integrated approach to the management of pain, inflammation and as a means of enhancing the body’s own healing chemicals in order to aid recovery and enhance rehabilitation.

Research has shown that most people gain relief from acupuncture and this is in part due to the release of chemicals like endorphins and serotonin into the body during acupuncture which are pain-inhibiting chemicals. The scientific proof gained from the research base allows acupuncture to be integrated with conventional medicine. Clinical trials provide evidence that acupuncture has a powerful and sustained effect on musculoskeletal pain. It is now commonly used in general practice, Physiotherapy and pain clinics as a compliment to conventional medicine.

The Evidence
Acupuncture is effective in the treatment of:

  • Migraines, neck disorders, tension -type headaches , and peripheral joint osteoarthritis (Lee & Ernst 2011)
  • Osteoarthritis – The Osteoarthritis Research Society International (Zhang et al. 2008)
  • Chronic low back pain (Huffman 2007, Manheimer et al. 2005)
  • The combination of acupuncture and conventional therapy was better than conventional therapy alone (Manheimer et al. 2005).

Is it safe?: Acupuncture is safe when practiced by a qualified Physiotherapist who has had extra training in acupuncture. There are strict hygiene guidelines: the needles are single use, disposable, pre-sterilised and individually packaged. They are also supplied in guidance tubes for easy insertion, with no risk of anything touching the needle during the process.

acupuncture back and body clinicAre there any side effects?: Minor side effects could occasionally include: drowsiness post treatment, mild bruising at the needle site, temporary pain increase, fainting, minor bleeding.

Serious side effects include (VERY RARE): Damage to internal organ from the needle insertion, infection, and premature onset of labour in pregnancy.

What does it involve?
Your Physiotherapist will normally use between 2-16 needles which can stay in for up to twenty-five minutes. During the treatment your Physiotherapist may stimulate the needles by gently moving them.

Acupuncture should not be painful because the needles are fine and inserted quickly through the skin. However, some people will experience a pin-prick sensation. Once the needles are in place you may feel a mild ache, numbness, or heavy sensation around the needle. This should not be unpleasant. This is a sign that endorphins and other relieving chemicals are being released.

Chou, R; Huffman, LH, American Pain, Society, American College of, Physicians (October 2007). “Nonpharmacologic therapies for acute and chronic low back pain: a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline”. Annals of Internal Medicine 147 (7): 492–504. doi:10.1001/archinte.147.3.492. PMID 17909210.
Lee, M. S.; Ernst, E. (2011). “Acupuncture for pain: An overview of Cochrane reviews”. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine 17 (3): 187–189.
Manheimer, E.; Cheng, K.; Linde, K.; Lao, L.; Yoo, J.; Wieland, S.; Van Der Windt, D. L. A. M.; Berman, B. M. et al. (2010). Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis. In Manheimer, Eric. “Acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis”. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (1): CD001977. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001977.pub2. PMC 3169099. PMID 20091527. edit
Manheimer E, White A, Berman B, Forys K, Ernst E (2005). “Meta-analysis: acupuncture for low back pain” (PDF). Ann Intern Med 142 (8): 651–63. PMID 15838072.
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) (2009). Clinical Guideline 88. Low Back Pain; Early management of persistant non-specific low back pain. National Collaborating Centre for Primary Care
Sun, Y.; Gan, T. J.; Dubose, J. W.; Habib, A. S. (2008). “Acupuncture and related techniques for postoperative pain: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials”. British Journal of Anaesthesia 101 (2): 151–60.
World Health Organization (2003). “Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials”. In Zhang X. World Health Organization.
Zhang, W; Moskowitz, RW; Nuki, G; Abramson, S; Altman, RD; Arden, N; Bierma-Zeinstra, S; Brandt, KD et al. (2008). “OARSI recommendations for the management of hip and knee osteoarthritis, Part II: OARSI evidence-based, expert consensus guidelines” (PDF). Osteoarthritis and Cartilage 16 (2): 137–162. doi:10.1016/j.joca.2007.12.013. PMID 18279766.