Find answers here to the most commonly asked questions.
This page will help you learn more about how acupuncture works and how it can help you.
Read about what to expect when you go to see an acupuncturist, how much it costs and how long a session is likely to be. Find out what moxa is, and whether animals can have acupuncture.
More details answers on the benefits of acupuncture are here too, and if you want to read further evidence on certain conditions, why not take a look at our Fact sheets.
Advice about COVID-19, including what to expect, preparing for an appointment and how acupuncture can help with Long Covid.
Find an acupuncturist
Find a qualified member of the British Acupuncture Council near you.
Can I find a specialist in my condition?QCan I find a specialist in my condition?A
We take the view that all of our members are competent to help people with a wide range of conditions. Because traditional acupuncture is a holistic therapy the profession does not have specialisms in the same way as mainstream medical practice.
Many of our members do have special interests and undertake additional training in certain areas. For example the treatment of children. We have a ‘Find an acupuncturist’ search facility which means that you can quickly find all of the BAcC members close to your postcode. You will be able to see areas of special interest or additional training on members’ websites.
We advise prospective patients to talk to a number of practitioners to determine for themselves who they would like to see. It is important that you feel comfortable with the practitioner.
Does acupuncture hurt?QDoes acupuncture hurt?A
Generally it should not be painful.
It is normal to feel a mild tingle or dull ache as the acupuncturist adjusts the needle. This sensation is known as deqi. If you do feel in any discomfort please inform your acupuncturist who will able to adjust or remove that particular needle. Acupuncture needles are so fine that many people don’t feel them being inserted. While the needles are in place, many people feel relaxed.
How does acupuncture work?QHow does acupuncture work?A
There are two ways in which this question can be answered. The first is to use the traditional theory of acupuncture to explain how acupuncture works.
It is this theory which a traditional acupuncturist will use to understand your condition and to select the appropriate points. This theory uses the concept of qi. For example, when somebody is in pain, this is considered to be a blockage in flow of qi. A traditional acupuncturist will select points along the meridian that is affected in order to encourage the qi to flow more freely. We are all familiar with a cartoon character that is angry: the head swells and the face goes red. Similarly, if someone is persistently angry, the qi is thought to rise up. An acupuncturist may choose points in the feet to bring the qi down.
The overall 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.
The second way to answer the question is to explain how acupuncture works in terms of modern science. One of the first potential mechanisms and probably the most famous is the release of endorphins. However, it is unlikely that the effects of acupuncture can be attributed to a single mechanism. There are a number of possibilities which include :
1. peripheral effects (release of adenosine and nitric oxide by axonal and dorsal root reflexes)
2. spinal effects (modulation of sympathetic tone and motor reflexes)
3. modulation of endogenous descending paying inhibitory and facilitatory systems
4. changing the functional connectivity of the brain. Activation deactivation of
a. limbic structures involved in stress/ illness responses
b. the hypothalamus pituitary adrenal axis
c. the prefrontal and frontal cortices
5. restoration of the default mode state
6. modulation of parasympathetic activity
7. activation of the reward and mirror systems
8. modulation of activation of the immune system
9. expectation, attention, conditioning an extinction of conditioned responses
A landmark study recently published in Nature showed a mechanism that is related to a specific acupuncture but not another. This study demonstrated that vagal-adrenal anti-inflammatory axis in mice was driven by the stimulation of the point ST36 but not ST25 . The importance of this study is that it suggests a specific effect of an
acupuncture point. In other words, the mechanisms of acupuncture are not simply general effects which occur regardless of where the needles are inserted.
1. Lund I, Lundeberg T. Mechanisms of acupuncture. Acupuncture and Related Therapies 2016;4(4):26-30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.arthe.2016.12.001
2. Liu S, Wang Z, Su Y, et al. A neuroanatomical basis for electroacupuncture to drive the vagal-adrenal axis. Nature 2021;Oct;598(7882)(1476-4687 (Electronic)):641-45. doi: doi: 10.1038/s41586-021-04001-4
How much does acupuncture cost?QHow much does acupuncture cost?A
The typical cost is normally in the region of £20 and £80 per session, however, some practitioners charge more.
The cost varies depending on the individual acupuncturist, the area in which they are based and the overheads. Please use our Find an acupuncturist function to search for practitioners in your area. We recommend that you search using the postcode. Treatment cost should be clearly indicated and this will give you an idea of the prices in your area.
Generally, there are options to suit all budgets, from one-to-one consultations to multibed clinics. Some insurance companies also cover the cost of treatments with BAcC registered acupuncturists.
Is acupuncture available on the NHS?QIs acupuncture available on the NHS?A
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.
Acupuncture has been included in NICE guidelines for headache (CG150) and for primary chronic pain (CG193). It is also included in the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network guidelines Management of chronic pain SIGN 136 for lower back pain and osteoarthritis. Therefore please speak to your GP about the possibility of referral.
As the BAcC is an Accredited Register with the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), GPs are permitted to refer patient to BAcC members.
What are the benefits of acupuncture?QWhat are the benefits of acupuncture?A
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. For some painful conditions the benefits have been shown to last at least a year.
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. 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 Acupuncture research Evidence A-Z /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 guidelines
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE):
- Headaches in over 12s: diagnosis and management (CG150)
- Chronic pain (primary and secondary) in over 16s: assessment of all chronic pain and management of chronic primary pain (CG193)
Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN):
- lower back pain
Where are the acupuncture points?QWhere are the acupuncture points?A
Most acupuncture points are located at places along interconnected pathways, meridians, that map the whole body, including the head, trunk and limbs.
There are also the ‘extra points’ which are not associated with a particular meridian. In practice any point on the body can be an acupuncture if there is pain. These are call a-shi points, which means ‘ah that’s it’ in Chinese. The most commonly used acupuncture points are on the lower arms and legs.
Are there any side effects?QAre there any side effects?A
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.
Please also the FAQ: Is acupuncture safe?
What is moxa?QWhat is moxa?A
Moxibustion is an essential part of Chinese medicine which uses moxa, a soft woolly substance prepared from Chinese mugwort leaves (Artemisia argyi). 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, heat permeates the skin and affects the flow of Qi 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.
Why can’t I find an acupuncturist on your register?QWhy can’t I find an acupuncturist on your register?A
Acupuncture is not statutorily regulated. Therefore, it is not mandatory for an acupuncturist to registered as a member of the British Acupuncture Council.
All practising BAcC Members’ names and practice details can be found on the Register. Please our Find an acupuncturist function to locate BAcC Members in your area. We recommend that you use the postcode.
If you notice a practitioner is advertising themselves as a member of the BAcC but does not appear on the register, or are simply unsure, please contact the Membership Department or call us on 020 8735 0400. We will be happy to check if a practitioner is a BAcC Member.
How long is a session of acupuncture?QHow long will a session last?A
A typical session will last for around 45 minutes. The needles will normally be in for 20 to 30 minutes. Although for some styles of practice and conditions the time could be short or longer. Your practitioner will be able to give more information about what to expect.
At each session your acupuncturist may wish to ask questions about your response to the treatment, take your pulse and look at your tongue. Naturally many people will also wish to ask the acupuncturist some questions, too. Therefore, time is allocated to allow for this conversation and general preparation. The first session will normally be longer as your acupuncturist will need to make sure they have all the necessary information to provide the best possible treatment.