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Acupuncture

NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopaedia

Introduction Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that originated around 2,000 years ago. Acupuncture is based on the belief that the working of the human body is controlled by a life force called Qi (pronounced chee). This flows between the organs of the body along pathways called meridians or channels. There are 12 meridians for the 12 main organs of the body, including the heart, liver, lungs, kidney and stomach. Although the meridians are named after particular organs, the name refers to other associated organs as well. For example, the kidney meridian is associated with the ears, eyes, bones, genitals, urethra and anus. Qi energy must run in the correct strength through these channels for us to be healthy. Illness occurs when the flow of Qi is blocked or unbalanced. Acupuncture points are located along the meridians. Needles are inserted in these places to unblock or alter the flow of Qi. This is thought to balance the proper flow of Qi and restore health.

Why is it necessary? In Western medicine, acupuncture is generally used to treat the symptoms of a condition rather than condition or disease itself. It can be helpful in relieving pain, and as a result, and is the most common used complementary therapy on the NHS. Studies show that acupuncture is effective for treating post-operative nausea and vomiting, chemotherapy related nausea and vomiting, sickness and nausea in pregnancy, and post-operative dental pain. As yet, research into the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment for chronic pain has not produced consistent results, which is due partly to the small scale of the studies that have taken place. Although research shows that acupuncture is not harmful, several studies suggest it is no more effective than a placebo. Therefore, acupuncture is generally used as a second or third treatment option on the NHS for patients with chronic pain, such as migraine, arthritis or back pain. It is not normally recommended unless conventional treatment has failed. Symptoms such as pain or sickness can indicate that there is a more serious problem inside the body. Your doctor will try to find the cause of the symptoms before recommending acupuncture.

How is it performed? When you go for treatment, the acupuncturist will ask you about your health and medical history. You may also be asked general questions about your lifestyle, and you will need to explain more about the pain or symptoms you are feeling. The acupuncturist will then look at your tongue. The appearance of the tongue can show what is happening inside the body. For example, a white coating on the tongue indicates too much heat, and a yellow coating indicates too much moisture. The acupuncturist will also feel your pulses. According to traditional Chinese medicine, there are six pulses in each wrist, which make up the 12 meridians in the body. Once the acupuncturist has diagnosed which meridians are out of balance, they can decide which acupuncture points (acupoints) to treat. There are around 500 acupoints altogether, from which the acupuncturist will probably choose between two and 20 to needle in any one treatment. You will need to remove any clothing covering the acupoints, and lie down on a bed or couch for treatment. Very fine needles are inserted into the acupoints, and generally only cause a slight prickling sensation. However, if you feel any pain, you should tell the acupuncturist so that they can adjust the position of the needles. The needles may be left in place for just a few seconds, or for as long as an hour. Most sessions last for 20-30 minutes, after which time the needles are quickly and gently removed.

How does it work? Acupuncture works by stimulating the nerves in the skin and muscles of sensitive parts of the body. These sensitive areas are known as acupoints, and are thought to link to nerve junctions in other parts of the body. When needles are inserted into these points, the body to releases natural pain killing substances, known as endorphins. Endorphins enter into the nerve pathways of the brain and spinal cord and help to relieve pain in the corresponding part of the body. For example, acupuncture needles are inserted into the tender areas of muscle in the neck and shoulders to treat headaches. Some acupuncturists practice electroacupuncture. This type of treatment uses needles that are connected to a battery-operated electrical device, causing them to vibrate and produce a tingling sensation. Acupoints may also be stimulated through the use of lasers or by pressing the acupoints in a certain way, known as acupressure. These techniques are often used to treat children, nervous patients, or sensitive areas of the body, because they do not involve needles. Recovery After acupuncture treatment, you may feel tired or energised. It is usually a good idea to rest after the session to encourage the body to heal itself. Some people feel worse following treatment, as the body tries to rid itself of toxins. You may feel slightly feverish, or sweat a lot, but once this has passed, most people feel significantly better than before acupuncture. When you first start receiving acupuncture, the treatments are usually a week or two apart. They become less frequent as your health improves, and a typical course of treatment usually lasts five to eight sessions.

Advantages There are no side effects to acupuncture, and it is a non-invasive form of treatment. When carried out by a fully trained and registered practitioner, acupuncture can be used by virtually everyone. Some people find that it can help both physical symptoms and mental conditions. Disadvantages Acupuncture cannot renew damaged parts of the body, such as broken bones, or diseased organs. If a serious condition is suspected, it should be thoroughly investigated before acupuncture treatment is started. Acupuncture can be effective in reducing pain, which may mask a more serious problem. What is it used for? Acupuncture is mainly used for treating conditions in which symptoms are the main problem. For example, the pain and fatigue caused by migraine and muscle strains can be relieved using acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture encourages the release of natural pain killing substances in the body. It is sometimes used to treat the symptoms of pain associated with the following: musculoskeletal pain, for example, in the back, shoulder, leg and neck, arthritic and rheumatoid pain in the joints, headaches and migraines, trapped nerves, and chronic muscle strains and sports injuries. Research shows that acupuncture affects most of the bodys systems, not just the nervous system. It is sometimes used to treat mild symptoms of the respiratory, digestive, urinary and reproductive systems. Some evidence suggests that acupuncture can encourage the body to make disease-fighting antibodies, improve circulation and reduce the severity of allergic reactions. It is important to remember that acupuncture will work better if you try to help yourself as well. For example, acupuncture will not improve diabetes if your diet and weight are unsuitable, or improve chest conditions if you continue to smoke. Acupuncture may help to alleviate some of the following conditions: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and mild forms of incontinence, menstrual and menopausal symptoms, including period pains and hot flushes, allergies such as hay fever and some types of allergic rashes, skin problems, including rashes, dermatitis and eczema, sinus problems and chronic catarrh, diabetes, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome (ME), and insomnia and depression. Acupuncture therapy may be offered in post-operative treatment of diseases such as cancer. Evidence shows that it is most effective in treating the symptoms associated with chemotherapy treatment, including pain, vomiting and nausea. Acupuncture may also help Parkinsons disease, by calming the tremors and easing stiffness. Acupuncture may help Alzheimers disease by slowing down the deterioration of the brain cells. Research shows that acupuncture is no more effective than placebo treatments in helping people to stop smoking or to lose weight.

Who can use it? Most people who use acupuncture receive private treatment. However, the use of acupuncture within the NHS is growing more quickly than any other complementary therapy. Many physiotherapy departments within NHS hospitals offer acupuncture and more than 2,000 GPs and hospital doctors are trained in certain acupuncture techniques. Acupuncture treatment is suitable for most people, although certain acupoints should be avoided during pregnancy. Acupuncture is not suitable for people with uncontrolled severe bleeding disorders, and extra care must be taken when treating people on anticoagulant drugs. Needles should not left be left in place for long periods of time when treating people with an increased risk of infection. Risks Acupuncture is a safe treatment if carried out by a trained practitioner. Serious complications such as infection, punctured lung or spinal cord injury are extremely rare. Risks such as these usually only occur as a result of bad practice or a poorly trained acupuncturist. A properly trained acupuncturist will always use clean needles and dispose of them after every use. If you do receive treatment, it is important to visit a properly trained and registered acupuncturist. At the moment, anyone in this country can call him or herself an acupuncturist because it is not a state regulated profession. However, there are several main UK acupuncture authorities that employ trained and experienced acupuncturists. They are: the British Acupuncture Council (BacC), the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS), and the Acupuncture Association of Chartered Physiotherapists (AACP)

References Online encyclopaedia: Complementary therapies

Glossary Blood Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart. Heart The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood around the body.

Brain The brain controls thought, memory and emotion. It sends messages to the body controlling movement, speech and senses. Joint Joints are the connection point between two bones that allow movement.

Liver The liver is the largest organ in the body. Its main jobs are to secrete bile (to help digestion), detoxify the blood and change food into energy.

Stomach The sac-like organ of the digestive system. It helps digest food by churning it and mixing it with acids to break it down into smaller pieces.

Lung Lungs are a pair of organs in the chest that control breathing. They remove carbon dioxide from the blood and replace it with oxygen.

Kidney Kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located at the back of the abdomen, which remove waste and extra fluid from the blood and pass them out of the body.

Antibody Antibodies and immunoglobins are proteins in the blood. They are produced by the immune system to fight against bacteria, viruses and disease.

Urethra The urethra is a tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

Anus The anus is the opening at the end of the digestive system where solid waste leaves the body.

Acupuncture Acupuncture is a complementary treatment that uses needles on specific parts of the body.

Physiotherapy Physiotherapy is a treatment that uses physical movements, massage and exercise to relieve illness or injury.

Allergen An allergen is a substance that reacts with the body's immune system and causes an allergic reaction.

Chronic Chronic usually means a condition that continues for a long time or keeps coming back.

Fatigue Fatigue is extreme tiredness and lack of energy.

High temperature A high temperature, also known as a fever, is when someone's body temperature goes above the normal 37C (98.6F).

Hot flushes A hot flush (also known as a hot flash) is an unpleasant, temporary feeling of heat in the face, neck and upper body, causing the skin to become reddened.

Placebo A placebo is a treatment that has no physical effect on a person and is usually used in clinical trials to test the effects of new medicines and drugs

Pain Pain is an unpleasant physical or emotional feeling that your body produces as a warning sign that it has been damaged.

Depression Depression is when you have feelings of extreme sadness, despair or inadequacy that last for a long time.

Vomit Vomiting is when you bring up the contents of your stomach through your mouth.

Nausea Nausea is when you feel like you are going to be sick.

Incontinence Incontinence is when you pass urine (urinal incontinence), or stools or gas (faecal incontinence), because you cannot control your bladder or bowels.

Anticoagulant Anticoagulant is a substance that stops blood from clotting (prevents coagulation). For example warfarin.

Chemotherapy Chemotherapy is a treatment of an illness or disease with a chemical substance, e.g. in the treatment of cancer.

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