- How does acupuncture work?Acupuncturists insert very fine needles at precisely located points to connect with your body’s qi. They will decide which points are right for you after a detailed consultation covering every aspect of your health and lifestyle. The aim is to direct the flow of qi to trigger your body’s healing response and to restore physical, emotional and mental equilibrium. Treatment is designed to affect your whole being as well as your symptoms so, as the condition being treated improves, you may notice other health problems resolve and an increased feeling of wellbeing.
- How much does acupuncture cost?
There is no fixed fee as practitioners' overheads vary around the country. There are options to suit all budgets, from one-to-one consultations to multibed clinics. Most insurance companies also cover the cost of treatments with BAcC registered acupuncturists.
- Is acupuncture available on the NHS?
Acupuncture is not commonly available on the NHS, and where it is available provision can be quite limited. Some GP practices offer integrated healthcare that includes acupuncture, but this is not yet commonplace. Therefore, many people pay privately for acupuncture.
- What are the benefits of acupuncture?
A lot of people seek acupuncture to help relieve specific conditions, especially pain conditions such as tension headaches, migraines, neck or back pain, osteoarthritis of the knee and temporomandibular joint pain. Clinical trials have shown that acupuncture does relieve these symptoms, at least in the short term. Whatever your particular problem, because treatment is designed to affect your whole body and not just your symptoms, you may notice other niggling complaints also get better with a course of treatment. Indeed, some people choose acupuncture when they feel their bodily functions are out of balance, but they have no obvious diagnosis. Once tried, many people have regular or ‘top-up’ treatments because they find it so beneficial and relaxing. For some conditions, such as migraine, acupuncture can be given to prevent flare-ups from occurring.
People also have acupuncture for other health problems. For example, there is clinical evidence that acupuncture provides short-term relief for overactive bladder syndrome. This research focused on the use of a specific acupuncture point Sp6. This point, sanyinjiao (三阴交) in Chinese, was identified in traditional texts, such as the Great Compendium of Acupuncture, as being beneficial for urinary problems. The Great Compendium of Acupuncture was published in 1601, long before the modern scientific understanding of the body developed. It was also before statistics and the other methods used in clinical trials were developed. The evidence that Sp6 is beneficial for overactive bladder syndrome is based on scientific research. However, this research was conducted because the traditional texts indicated that Sp6 might be beneficial for urinary problems. BAcC members are trained in the traditional theory of acupuncture. Further research will need to be conducted to evaluate whether acupuncture is beneficial for other urinary problems.
Another benefit of acupuncture is that it can be given alongside other therapies and/ or medication, in almost all circumstances.
Researchers can only draw firm conclusions about whether acupuncture is effective or not when high quality evidence is available. In the last decade, the evidence regarding some chronic pain conditions has become much stronger. Based on this evidence, in 2017, the National Institute for Health and Research issued a Signal (a short summary of recently published research) that acupuncture was effective for some chronic pain and was not a placebo. However, for many conditions there are simply not enough good quality clinical trials for researchers to draw firm conclusions. Please see our A-Z of evidence and/or the Cochrane Library. If you are considering having acupuncture and would like to know more, please speak to a BAcC practitioner.
We also recommend that you speak to your GP. Acupuncture is currently included in the following National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines:
- Where are the acupuncture points?
Acupuncture points are located at precise places along interconnected pathways that map the whole body, including the head, trunk and limbs. The most commonly used acupuncture points are on the lower arms and legs.
- Does acupuncture hurt?
Acupuncture needles are so fine that most people don’t feel them being inserted. It is normal to feel a mild tingle or dull ache as the acupuncturist adjusts the needle to direct qi. While the needles are in place most people feel deeply relaxed which can continue after they are removed.
- Is it safe? Are there any side effects?
There have been a number of scientific papers published on the safety of acupuncture. These have concluded that acupuncture is safe so long as it is delivered by a properly trained individual. Therefore, we would recommend that you ensure your acupuncturist belongs to a professional organisation such as the British Acupuncture Council.
As acupuncture involves the insertion of needles there will sometimes be a small bruise where the needle was inserted. Occasionally, people can feel dizzy or tired after a treatment, but this passes quickly.
To help your acupuncturist ensure that there are no unwanted side effects, please let them know any medications that you are taking, such as anti-coagulants. Also let them know if feel hot or the room is stuffy, or you are hungry/thirsty.
Research papers on the safety of acupuncture:
MacPherson H, Thomas K, Walters S, et al. The York acupuncture safety study: prospective survey of 34 000 treatments by traditional acupuncturists. BMJ Clinical research 2001;323(7311):486-87.
White, A. (2006). The safety of acupuncture – evidence from the UK. Acupuncture in Medicine, 24(Suppl), 53–57. https://doi.org/10.1136/aim.24.Suppl.53
Witt CM, Pach D, Brinkhaus B, et al. Safety of acupuncture: results of a prospective observational study with 229,230 patients and introduction of a medical information and consent form. Forschende Komplementärmedizin 2009;16(2):91-97. doi: 10.1159/000209315
- What is moxa?
Moxibustion is an essential part of Chinese medicine which uses moxa, a soft woolly substance prepared from mugwort leaves (Artemisia vulgaris). In moxibustion the moxa is placed either directly on the skin or held just above it, over specific acupuncture points or meridians. The herb is lit and as it smoulders slowly, a therapeutic heat permeates the skin and affects the flow of "qi" (energy) and blood in the area being treated.
Direct moxibustion is more commonly used for specific areas needing treatment. The practitioner shapes the moxa into a tiny cone and places it directly on to the body before lighting. The lit moxa cone is removed as soon as the patient feels any sensation of heat.
Moxibustion is a specialist technique demanding skilled clinical judgement and is contraindicated in certain cases. The easiest way to ensure your practitioner is properly trained is by visiting a British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) member.
- Why can’t I find an acupuncturist on your register?
Not all British Acupuncture Council members are listed on our website. Please see our policy relating to members' names and practice details on the Register. Contact the Membership Department or call us on 020 8735 0400 if you need to check if a practitioner is a member.
It is not mandatory for an acupuncturist to register as a member of the British Acupuncture Council.
- How long should a session last and how many sessions do I need?It depends on the condition and your individual response to treatment. Please discuss your condition with a local member, as it is they who would be supervising your treatment. Patients may notice an improvement after the first session or it may take longer. As far as session duration is concerned, most acupuncture sessions will be about 45 minutes long, with the first session taking longer. The first session may also be more expensive.
In terms of the number of treatments, this would depend on the specifics of your treatment, but after your initial assessment with a practitioner, you can ask them how many sessions they think it will take. At first your acupuncturist will normally ask to see you once or twice a week. You may start to feel benefits after the first or second treatment although long-standing and chronic conditions usually need more time to improve. Once your health has stabilised you may need top-up treatments every few weeks. Traditional acupuncture is also very effective when used as preventive healthcare and many people like to go for a 'returning' session at the change of each season throughout the year.
- Do acupuncturists do home visits?
That depends on the individual practitioner. You may need to call a few to find one that does.
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