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Acupuncture is the treatment of ill health by inserting needles into the skin at particular points. This stimulates the body's own ability to heal. There are about 7,000 acupuncturists practising in the UK, and one in three GP surgeries are making acupuncture available to patients.

Acupuncture is one element of the wider system of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which developed in China around 4,000 years ago and is used to both diagnose and treat illness. Traditional Chinese Medicine also includes herbal medicine, massage, exercise and diet.

Chinese medicine is based on the theory that pathways of energy (known as qi, pronounced chee) flow through the body. Qi consists of equal and opposite qualities - Yin and Yang - and when these become unbalanced, illness may result. By inserting fine needles into the channels of energy, an acupuncturist can stimulate the body's own healing response and help restore its natural balance.

What is acupuncture commonly used for?

Acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of illnesses.

Pain: most types of pain, including back, neck, shoulder, dental or leg pain, low back pain, general aches and pains, headaches, rheumatic or arthritic pain, sports injuries, sciatica or trapped nerves, chronic muscle strain, migraines, plantar fascitis, dental pain shingles, and trigeminal neuralgia.

Other medical problems: including nausea and vomiting; menstrual or menopause problems; bladder, bowel or digestive problems; anxiety states, stress; depression; asthma; high blood pressure; circulatory problems; skin problems; infertility; stroke recovery; fibrositis; ulcers; allergies; sinus problems; chronic catarrh; dry mouth or eyes; angina; insomnia; and general tiredness. also post operative nausea and vomiting and pain relief following surgery.

Addictions: acupuncture is being increasingly used for people trying to overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs and smoking.

Maternity: Acupuncture is also used during pregnancy, particularly for nausea and vomiting, and during childbirth.

What will happen when I see an acupuncturist?

Your first appointment will last about 30 minutes to an hour. The acupuncturist will ask you about your current symptoms, medical history, diet and digestion, sleep patterns and emotional state. The acupuncturist will also feel your pulses on both wrists and look at your tongue.

The acupuncturist will then quickly insert fine needles into the surface of your skin at up to 10 different places. The needles will usually be left there for between 10-30 minutes before they are gently removed. Some people don't feel anything during acupuncture, while others may feel tingling or a slight sensation.

The acupuncturist may manipulate the needles from time to time. Heat may be applied either to the needles or directly to the point by burning a herb called moxa. Points may be stimulated using other methods, such as massage or low level laser.

Follow-up treatments are usually 30-45 minutes. The number of treatments you need will depend on the health condition that you are seeking treatment for. For most complaints, you can expect to notice improvements after about 5 treatments. To begin with, the acupuncturist may recommend that you receive treatment once or twice a week. Patients with chronic (long-term) illnesses may need top-up treatments every few weeks.

Sometimes symptoms can get temporarily get worse after a treatment, or you may feel tired. It is best not to plan to do anything too strenuous immediately after an acupuncture treatment.


Very occasionally people feel a little light headed or dizzy soon after treatment, so it is best not to drive home straight away, or to plan strenuous activity for a few hours after the appointment.

This information in taken from Complementary Healthcare: a guide for patients, consultation draft, The Prince of Wales's Foundation for Integrated Health, March 2004, and reproduced with kind permission.

For more information about acupuncture, please visit:
British Acupuncture Council