Could acupuncture change your life?
Traditional acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine which focuses on achieving a perfect balance between mind and body. Originating more than 2,500 years ago in China and the Far East, the word 'acupuncture' comes from the Latin 'acus' meaning 'needle' and 'punctura' which means 'to puncture.'
Chinese medicine views ill-health as an imbalance of energy in the body and the purpose of an acupuncture treatment is to restore the balance of Yin and Yang. Energy, or Qi (pronounced 'chee'), comes in two forms – Yin energy (calm and quiet) and Yang energy (exciting and vigorous). Chinese medicine aims to restore the balance of energy to make the patient well.
What types of acupuncture exist?
There isn't just one type of acupuncture; in fact, there are several...
This uses pre-sterilised, single-use needles and is the type of acupuncture most of us are familiar with. Needles are inserted into the body at acupuncture points to cure illness and address pain.
In this type of treatment, no needles are used. Instead, the practitioner uses their hands on the acupuncture points to stimulate Qi and relieve tight muscles.
If you're scared of needles, there's no need to avoid acupuncture, as today low-level laser therapy can be used, where lasers take the place of needles, stimulating acupuncture points.
In electro-acupuncture, the inserted needles are attached to electrodes on an electro-acupuncture machine, which delivers tiny variable electrical impulses. This is usually used to help with pain reduction and used in the relief of chronic pain.
Which conditions can be treated?
You might be surprised to learn that acupuncture can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, from back and neck pain to depression and insomnia. It's an alternative therapy, so you won't usually find it available on the NHS, and it is often used in conjunction with medication or other treatments. If you ask your doctor and they agree to prescribe acupuncture, you may be able to have treatments on the NHS. This usually happens if you're suffering from chronic back pain, tension headaches or migraines. Here are just a few of the conditions that acupuncture can be used to treat:
- Lower back pain
- Knee pain
- Neck pain
- Morning sickness
- Facial pain
Research has shown that acupuncture may also be beneficial in treating the following conditions, although more studies will be needed for conclusive evidence to be available:
- Eye pain
- Alcohol dependence
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
- Vascular dementia
What to expect from your treatment
So, you've booked an acupuncture session and you're feeling more than a little nervous; what should you expect from your treatment? It helps to be informed, as part of the anxiety that usually surrounds alternative treatments such as acupuncture is not knowing what will happen. Because acupuncture aims to rebalance the body as a whole, it's not unusual for your acupuncturist to ask you a lot of questions, designed to find out more about your lifestyle and general health. This could include questions about your medical history, your sleeping pattern, emotional well-being and your appetite and digestion.
There are a few things you should bear in mind before attending for an acupuncture treatment:
- Try not to attend a session right after a heavy meal, or on an empty stomach – eat something light yet filling such as an omelette
- Let your acupuncturist know if you are new to acupuncture – they'll take more time to ensure you are comfortable
- Wear loose clothing that allows easy access to your legs and lower arm – many acupuncture points are located in these areas
You'll have the opportunity to discuss your main health complaint in detail – such as any symptoms you are having and how frequent they are. You'll need to let your practitioner know whether you have tried any other therapies and whether you are taking any medication for your complaint.
Your acupuncturist will diagnose the problem and work out a treatment plan for you, which will usually involve several acupuncture sessions. As well as acupuncture, your personalised treatment plan may include recommended changes to your diet and lifestyle. You might notice that the acupuncture points used are not always close to where you're suffering from pain or discomfort. For example, headaches are often treated using acupuncture points on your hands or feet.
Acupuncturists often provide other complementary Chinese medicine techniques which you can try, including:
- Cupping – glass cups with a vacuum seal are used to clear stagnant Qi from the body
- Tuina massage – a form of Chinese massage which stimulates the flow of QI
- Guasha – a vigorous skin massage which increases blood flow
- Moxibustion – Moxa, a special herb (or heat lamps) is applied to acupuncture points to help relax your muscles
What happens after treatment?
Most people find acupuncture a very relaxing treatment, and it's normal to feel tired or sleep after a session. It is often a good idea to get a lift home after treatment rather than driving alone. You should avoid strenuous exercise and enjoy a rest after your session; alcohol should also be avoided for at least a few hours. After cupping treatments, you may experience bruising, but this normally fades within a couple of days.
What will acupuncture do for me?
At the end of the day, you want to know that investing time and money in acupuncture treatments will make a difference to your life – so we've come up with 6 ways that acupuncture can change your life. They might not all apply to you, but we're willing to bet that you'll be able to relate to most of them after just a couple of sessions.
#1. Reduced stress
Acupuncture can help you to feel less stressed. The treatment mellows out your nervous system, which leaves you better equipped to cope with stress in your life.
#2. Increase energy
After your first treatment, you'll probably feel blissfully relaxed, but acupuncture can actually help to boost your energy levels. You may notice in the days and weeks following your treatment that you're more motivated to hit the gym for a lunchtime workout, and those 3pm slumps may become a thing of the past.
#3. Clarity of mind
The huge surge of energy which follows an acupuncture treatment often leaves you with a feeling of mental clarity. You might notice that it's easier than ever before to make decisions, or that you feel generally more motivated than you have done in months.
#4. Improve sleep
If you've ever suffered from insomnia, you'll know it can have a knock-on effect on every aspect of your life, from work to relationships. Acupuncturists frequently treat patients suffering from insomnia, but even if that's not your main complaint, you may notice you start enjoying more restful sleep after an acupuncture treatment. This is because acupuncture clears out stagnant Qi in your body, helping your energy to flow better.
#5. Healthier diet
Chinese therapists see food in terms of temperatures, and your acupuncturist will advise you whether you need to eat more 'warm' or 'cool' foods to address imbalances in your body. This can change with the seasons, but by eating foods tailored to your needs, you'll look and feel healthier.
#6. Increase patience
We live in a 'want it now' society where technology enables us to have whatever we want at the touch of a button, making us chronically impatient. Acupuncture, on the other hand, is an ongoing treatment; you'll need to invest time and money to benefit fully from the results and forget about instant gratification.
Silence the sceptics
Now you've learned more about what acupuncture can do for you, the success of your treatment may depend largely on your attitude towards it. People generally fall into two camps – those who believe that alternative therapies such as acupuncture can be beneficial in the treatment of certain conditions, and those who don't believe anything other than conventional medicine should be used. There is evidence to support both arguments, and for some of the conditions and complaints listed above, there is plenty of evidence to support acupuncture as an effective treatment.
Make sure you choose a licensed practitioner – you can find a list of qualified therapists on the British Acupuncture Council's website.