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Acupuncture uses needles, cups and other tools to stimulate sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles. It causes the body to produce pain-relieving endorphins and other natural substances that help a number of ailments, depending on what part of the body the acupuncturist treats. So what is acupuncture good for? Express.co.uk chatted to osteopath James Gill at Bodytonic Clinic to find out what you need to know about acupuncture.
What is acupuncture?
Modern Western acupuncture, also known as dry needling, comes from ancient Chinese medicine.
When you think about acupuncture, your mind jumps to needles but may not understand why needles can play a role in pain relief.
Mr Gill explained: “Acupuncture involves the stimulation of nerves under the skin and muscles in the body, using thin, single-use needles.”
You’ll normally need an assessment or evaluation by a medical health professional such as an osteopath or physiotherapist to identify areas of concern that can be targeted with acupuncture.
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How does acupuncture work?
In traditional acupuncture, it is believed that energy or “life force” called Qi flows through the body in channels called meridians.
Traditional acupuncturists believe that illnesses can develop when Qi does not flow freely, and then use acupuncture to restore the flow of Qi and your health.
However, Western acupuncture differs and there is scientific evidence that this acupuncture works to relieve pain.
Acupuncture is sometimes available on the NHS, although access is limited.
Mr Gill said: “During an osteopathy or physiotherapy session using medical acupuncture, fine needles are inserted into certain points across the body, just underneath the skin or slightly deeper to reach muscle tissue.
“Once the needles have been inserted, they may be left for a duration of time which can be anywhere between a few minutes to half an hour.
“Medical acupuncture is used to encourage healing and pain relief. Needling the body stimulates sensory nerves under the skin and in your muscles, triggering your body to produce pain-relieving endorphins.”
Many people are concerned about the pain associated with acupuncture, but it shouldn’t be painful enough to put you off.
The pain should feel more like a tingling sensation, but it may be more for some than others.
Mr Gill said: “The sensation of medical acupuncture varies from person to person although you should not feel any significant pain.
“The most pain you might feel will be a sharp sensation or a dull ache.”
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What is acupuncture good for?
Acupuncture is most commonly used for pain relief for musculoskeletal conditions such as tension headaches, migraines, chronic pain and muscle pain, said Mr Gill.
At present, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence only recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic tension-type headaches or migraines.
However, the NHS site notes that acupuncture is often used to treat other conditions such as chronic pain, joint pain, dental pain, and postoperative pain.
It has been claimed acupuncture can help with things like insomnia, anxiety, depression, hypertension, allergies, menstrual cramps, endometriosis, morning sickness, sprains, and strokes.
Although there is very limited evidence for it, some people use acupuncture to help acne, cancer pain, infertility, diabetes, obesity, alcohol dependence, schizophrenia, and other conditions.
Medical acupuncture won’t be life-changing for everyone though, Mr Gill noted.
He said: “Not everyone responds the same way to medical acupuncture, some will notice significant improvements in their symptoms whilst others will not.”
Acupuncture doesn’t need to be about pain relief, Mr Gill commented that it also “promotes relaxation and improved well-being”.
He said: “Often the nature of the treatment helps patients to feel better even if there is no improvement directly to their medical condition.”
For acupuncture to be really effective, you’ll probably need several sessions.
Mr Gill explained: “An appointment will usually take between 30 minutes to one hour depending on the assessment of your health.
“A course of medical acupuncture is more effective for pain relief than a single session of treatment.
“Most likely, you will be recommended to have treatment once a week at the start and then intervals between sessions will increase as the treatment starts to take effect.”
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