What is traditional Acupuncture?
Traditional acupuncture is a healthcare system based on ancient principles which go back nearly two thousand years. It has a very positive model of good health and function, and looks at pain and illness as signs that the body is out of balance. The overall aim of acupuncture treatment, then, is to restore the body's equilibrium. What makes this system so uniquely suited to modern life is that physical, emotional and mental are seen as interdependent, and reflect what many people perceive as the connection between the different aspects their lives.
Based on traditional belief, acupuncturists are trained to use subtle diagnostic techniques that have been developed and refined for centuries. The focus is on the individual, not their illness,
and all the symptoms are seen in relation to each other. Each patient is unique; two people with the same western diagnosis may well receive different acupuncture treatments.
Traditional acupuncturists believe that the underlying principle of treatment is that illness and pain occur when the body's qi, or vital energy, cannot flow freely. There can be many reasons for this; emotional and physical stress, poor nutrition, infection or injury are among the most common. By inserting ultra-fine sterile needles into specific acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncturist seeks to re-establish the free flow of qi to restore balance and trigger the body's natural healing response.
Until the 1940s, when the Chinese government commissioned the development of a uniform system of diagnosis and treatment, somewhat misleadingly referred to as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), nearly all training had been apprentice-style with masters and within families. The same applied when acupuncture travelled overseas to Japan and South East Asia.
As a consequence of this there are many different styles of acupuncture which share a common root but are distinct and different in their emphasis. You may read of TCM, Five Elements, Stems and Branches, Japanese Meridian Therapy, and many others, all of which have their passionate devotees.
Traditional acupuncture has a long history of adapting to new cultures in which it is practised. Its growing popularity and acceptance in the West may well promote yet more new and exciting variations on the ancient themes.
A growing body of evidence-based clinical research shows that traditional acupuncture safely treats a wide range of common health problems.
Is Acupuncture safe?
Acupuncture is one of the safest medical treatments, both conventional and complementary, on offer in the UK.
Two surveys conducted independently of each other and published in the British Medical Journal in 2001 concluded that the risk of a serious adverse reaction to acupuncture is less than 1 in 10,000. This is far less than many orthodox medical treatments.
Styles of Acupuncture
Traditional acupuncture is based on Chinese medicine principles that have been developed, researched and refined for over 2,500 years. Traditional acupuncture is holistic, not focused on isolated symptoms. It regards pain and illness, whether physical or mental, to be a sign the whole body is out of balance.
Different schools of traditional acupuncture vary slightly in needling style and diagnostic techniques but all concentrate on improving overall wellbeing by treating the root cause of an illness
as well as relieving symptoms. All styles of acupuncture spring from the same Chinese medical roots.
Within traditional acupuncture there are several specific techniques which can be used as stand-alone treatments. We are familiar with these techniques and use them when appropriate, usually as part of an overall individualised treatment plan. In addition to needling acupuncture points, a traditional acupuncture treatment may include other Chinese medicine techniques such as:
Auricular acupuncture uses acupuncture points located on the ear. Often used with other styles of acupuncture or on its own.
Numerous Cochrane reviews have looked at the evidence for acupuncture in certain conditions. Many reviews conclude that further analysis is required, but the following have more positive conclusions:
FAQs on Acupuncture
Who has traditional acupuncture?
Many people use acupuncture for help with specific symptoms or conditions. Others choose acupuncture as a preventive measure to strengthen their constitution or because they just feel generally unwell. Acupuncture is considered suitable for all ages including babies, children and the elderly. It can be very effective when integrated with conventional medicine.
How can traditional acupuncture help me?
Acupuncture is widely considered to be beneficial for a range of illnesses and symptoms, from clearly defined complaints to more general feelings of ill health and low energy.
How many sessions will I need?
That depends on your individual condition. At first your doctor 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 'retuning' session at the change of each season throughout the year.
What does it feel like?
Most people find acupuncture to be very relaxing. Patients often describe the needle sensation as a tingling or dull ache. This is one of the signs the body's qi, or vital energy, has been stimulated.
I'm scared of needles, can I still have acupuncture?
Yes. Acupuncture needles are very much finer than the needles used for injections and blood tests. You may not even feel them penetrate the skin and once in place they are hardly noticeable.
What should I do before a treatment?
Try not to have a large meal within an hour of your appointment as the process of digestion will alter the pattern of your pulse, and you may need to lie on your stomach. You should also avoid alcohol and food or drink that colours your tongue such as coffee or strong tea. It is a good idea to wear loose-fitting clothes so that the acupuncture points, especially those on your lower limbs, are easily accessible.
How will I feel after a treatment?
You are likely to feel relaxed and calm. If the treatment has been particularly strong you may feel tired or drowsy and it is worth bearing this in mind if you plan to drive or use any other machinery soon afterwards.
Are there any unpleasant effects?
Acupuncture has virtually no unpleasant side effects. Any that do occur are mild and self-correcting. Occasionally there may be minor bruising at the needle point or a short-term flare-up of your symptoms as your qi clears and resettles.
Should I tell my doctor I am having acupuncture?
If you are currently receiving treatment from your doctor it is sensible to mention that you plan to have acupuncture. Your acupuncturist will need to know about any medication you are taking as this may affect your response to the acupuncture treatment.
Should I take my prescribed medication while I am having a course of acupuncture?
Yes. The acupuncture treatment may enable you to reduce or even stop taking some forms of medication but you should always consult your doctor regarding any change of prescription. DO NOT stop taking medication without professional guidance.
I have private medical insurance, will it cover the cost of my treatment?
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.
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