Frequently Asked Questions About Acupuncture
What about the needles used?
BAcC members use single-use pre-sterilised disposable needles, which are disposed of immediately after use. The BAcC Code of Safe Practice, drawn up in consultation with experts in the field of skin piercing, lays down stringent standards which all BAcC members are required to follow. The rules also extend to the hygiene and sterilisation of other equipment.
Is it safe?
There have been three surveys in the last six years which have shown that when used by a fully trained practitioner, acupuncture is amongst the safest therapies in use in the UK today. Out of 68,000 recorded treatments in two of the 2001 surveys, there were only 14 minor (bruising, feeling nauseous) adverse events. There have been very few reports of serious adverse events, and most adverse effects are transient, lasting no more than a day or so.
If you are pregnant there are certain acupuncture points that are classically contra-indicated and it is very important to ensure your practitioner is trained and skilled in the specific use of acupuncture in pregnancy.
Should I tell my doctor?
If you are receiving treatment from your doctor then it is sensible to mention that you plan to have acupuncture. Also your acupuncturist may suggest you see your GP or midwife if they consider this to be a priority.
If you are receiving support through the charity 'Caring for Me', you will be provided with a simple information and consent form to be filled in by your GP or consultant before commencing treatment.
Yes definately, at least until you have discussed this with your doctor or the practitioner who prescribed the medication. DO NOT stop taking any medication without professional guidance,
Make sure that you inform your acupuncturist of any medication you are taking. This is because it may affect your response to the acupuncture treatment.
Should I continue with my prescribed medication while undergoing a course of acupuncture treatment?
Is acupuncture available on the NHS?
Some primary care trusts (PCT) and GP practices offer acupuncture treatment, but it is not yet commonplace. You should always enquire about any acupuncture treatment on offer to ensure that the practitioner is safe, properly trained, competent and fully insured.
In the UK there are three major practitioner groups delivering acupuncture to patients. All three groups have a membership in the region of 2000–2500 (data from 2005):
The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC): registered membership of this professional association is restricted to practitioners who have completed a recognised 3-year training course entailing 3600 hours , of which there is a minimum of 1200 contact hours of education.
Membership of BAcC is open to qualified acupuncture practitioners with and without conventional medical qualifications, although members will have undertaken extensive study in bio-medical science to a level appropriate to the use of acupuncture as part of their training. Most members are in private practice.
British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS): most medical doctors who use acupuncture are members of the BMAS. For a Certificate in
Basic Competence in acupuncture, the course is two weekends. A Certificate of Accreditation in acupuncture requires 100 hours’ education and
training in acupuncture.
The Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP): membership is open to physiotherapists who are required to have
undertaken a minimum of 20 hours of acupuncture training.
Why should I go to a BAcC member for Traditional Acupuncture?
Surprisingly it is currently still possible to set up as an acupuncturist without any formal training or qualifications. However, all BAcC members have an extensive training in acupuncture (to degree level) and in biomedical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture in the UK. They are trained to recognise conditions they cannot treat and to refer clients to their GP when this is appropriate. They will not treat certain conditions unless the client has first been seen by their GP to exclude any underlying serious pathology. Members of the BAcC will often have undertaken further postgraduate studies to increase their studies and expertise. As well as being covered by full Medical Malpractice and Public/ Products Liability Insurance, BAcC members are bound by codes of professional conduct and safe practice.
Visit www.acupuncture.org.uk to check membership.
What should I look for in an acupuncturist?
As well as checking that they are registered with a professional body and have appropriate insurance cover, you may find that your personal rapport with the practitioner is important. It is helpful to find a practitioner with whom you feel comfortable, who understands what you want from treatment, and who can explain clearly what they expect acupuncture treatment might do for you. Many will have undertaken postgraduate study in specific conditions.
How many treatments will I need?
Can I buy an acupuncture machine for self-treatment?
The BAcC do not recommend self-treatment either with needles or other acupuncture devices. A fully trained practitioner carefully diagnoses and administers appropriate treatment for each individual, and will refer you to your GP if necessary. 'Specific points for specific symptoms' techniques are usually not based on traditional acupuncture theory and may cause someone to suppress or overlook important symptoms which require further investigation.
This varies between patients. Most people have a course of treatment and usually notice changes after four to six sessions. Your practitioner will review your progress with you, and carefully monitor your treatment to ensure that it matches your needs.
How does acupuncture work?
Traditional acupuncture is based on well established diagnostic techniques which have evolved over the millennia into a complex system based on correcting imbalances in the body's 'energy system' . From a western perspective recent research has shown that the results of acupuncture are not just a placebo effect and actually stimulates the nervous system and parts of the brain.
These research results complement an established body of work that has shown that acupuncture creates signals via the central nervous system which result in the brain releasing natural pain-killing chemicals known as endorphins.
Hugh MacPherson works for the University of York as a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences. He is also the Honorary Clinical Director at the York Clinic where he works as an acupuncturist.
Dr Maiken Nedergaard MD, DMSc
Neuroscientist in Rochester Medical Center, USA
In May 2010 a team at the University of Rochester Medical Center led by neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc.,published a paper in Nature Neuroscience which identified the molecule called adenosine as a mediator in some of the effects of acupuncture in the body.
Adenosine, is a natural compound known for its role in regulating sleep, for its effects on the heart, and for its anti-inflammatory properties. But adenosine also acts as a natural painkiller, becoming active in the skin after an injury to inhibit nerve signals and ease pain in a way similar to local anaesthetics.
Is acupuncture covered by my health insurance?
That depends upon your insurer. As the demand for complementary medicine increases more private health insurance companies are beginning to offer cover for traditional acupuncture. You should check your individual policy details.
A study in 2012, by researchers from both the University of York and the Hull York Medical School and published in Brain Research, indicates that acupuncture has a significant effect on specific neural structures.
When a patient receives acupuncture treatment, a sensation called deqi can be obtained; scientific analysis shows that this deactivates areas within the brain that are associated with the processing of pain.
How is Medical Acupuncture different to Traditional Acupuncture?
Western medical acupuncture is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology and the principles of evidence based medicine instead of the traditional theories. It is principally used by conventional healthcare practitioners, most commonly in primary care, and is mainly used to treat musculoskeletal pain. Practitioners of Western medical acupuncture tend to pay less attention than classical acupuncturists to choosing one point over another, though they generally choose classical points as the best places to stimulate the nervous system.