Western medical acupuncture is a therapeutic modality involving the insertion of fine needles. It is an adaptation of Chinese acupuncture using current knowledge of anatomy, physiology and pathology, and the principles of evidence based medicine. While Western medical acupuncture has evolved from Chinese acupuncture, its practitioners no longer adhere to concepts such as Yin / Yang and circulation of qi , and regard acupuncture as part of conventional medicine rather than a complete “alternative medical system”.
It acts mainly by stimulating the nervous system, and its known modes of action include local antidromic axon reflexes, segmental and extrasegmental neuromodulation, and other central nervous system effects. Acupuncture works by relaxing tight muscles through reflex mechanisms which involves the spinal cord and brain, this helps relieve pain and stiffness, it is particularly useful in osteo-arthritic (wear and tear) conditions when it is thought nothing can be done.
Western medical acupuncture is principally used by conventional healthcare practitioners, most commonly in primary care. It is mainly used to treat musculoskeletal pain, including myofascial trigger point pain. It is also effective for postoperative pain and nausea.
Acupuncture treats a broad spectrum of physical and mental conditions and is also beneficial for day-to-day wellbeing. It can be used to treat many acute and chronic conditions, such as stress, anger, anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia, headaches/migraines, emotional issues, women’s health, mens health, digestive problems, painful joints, addictions and much more.
People are often unsure about the insertion of needles but more often than not, find it far less painful than anticipated and often dont feel the insertion. However, occasionally a point can be painful. Whilst the needles are in, people usually feel very relaxed as acupuncture causes the release of your body’s own feel good chemicals called endorphins and encephalins.
What are the differences between traditional and modern acupuncture?
The differences are mainly at the level of theory – ideas about what is going on when one inserts an acupuncture needle into a patient. There, are, however, also some practical differences.
Which is better, modern or traditional?
It is not possible to give an objective answer to this question because there is little good research evidence that bears on it. Probably both versions of acupuncture are roughly similar in effectiveness but modern acupuncture is generally quicker and easier to perform.
There are also some techniques in the modern version that are not used in traditional acupuncture and which are particularly effective in certain circumstances, e.g. for the treatment of joint pain (arthritis).
What diseases can be helped by acupuncture?
It isn’t possible to give a complete list, partly because a lot depends on the reaction of the individual patient. Some people are much better subjects than others, and some don’t respond at all.
In general, acupuncture is good for pain, especially pain in the muscles and joints (including some kinds of arthritis). It can also help in a range of other disorders, including headaches and migraine, some allergies, painful periods, and ulcerative colitis.
Does it hurt?
Acupuncture is usually not pain-free. However, it is no more painful than an ordinary injection or blood test and in many cases it is less painful than these. As a rule it is necessary to produce a little pain to achieve an improvement but some people feel nothing at all.
Oddly enough, you may even find that acupuncture makes you feel relaxed and happy. If this happens it probably means that you are a good acupuncture subject and are likely to benefit from this form of treatment. (If it doesn’t happen to you, however, that is not a bad sign; you may do well anyway.)
Are there any particular adverse effects I should look out for?
Sometimes a small bruise appears where the needle was inserted. This isn’t serious; it just means that a little vein was broken by the needle. There is no need to do anything about it; it will go away by itself.
Some patients find that their symptoms become temporarily worse for a short time after acupuncture. This is termed an aggravation. Tell the person who is treating you about this next time you come; it may be possible to avoid the aggravation in future by treating you more lightly, with fewer needles or for a shorter time. But some people will get an a mild aggravation every time they have acupuncture. In general, aggravation is followed by an improvement, so it is quite a good sign.
Some degree of drowsiness after acupuncture is fairly common. This may make driving or operating machinery dangerous, so patients should generally not drive themselves home after treatment, particularly on the first occasion. Sometimes drowsiness does not occur after the first treatment but does occur on a subsequent occasion, and it is also possible for the onset of drowsiness to occur later in the day, some hours after treatment. Patients who have had acupuncture should therefore be cautious about driving for the rest of the day and should be prepared for their reflexes to be slower than normal.
This list does not exhaust all the adverse effects that have been reported but it does summarize the commonest ones. If you have any particular anxieties about the treatment you should discuss them with the person who is going to treat you.
Can acupuncture transmit AIDS or hepatitis?
No, because all the needles are disposed of after use. There is therefore no possibility that infection could be transmitted.
How soon will I notice an improvement?
Some patients notice partial or even complete relief as soon as the needle is put in but this is exceptional. Most find that improvement takes longer to appear – sometimes later the same day, or perhaps up to two or three days.
How many treatments will I require?
Sometimes one treatment is enough but this is unusual. Most people require a course of roughly 3 to 6 treatments. At first you may be asked to come back after one or two weeks; as improvement occurs the intervals between treatments may be made longer.
Generally speaking, there should be at least some effect after two or three treatments. If nothing at all happens you are probably not going to respond to this form of treatment. You should never be asked to book in for a fixed number of treatments in advance, since the course of treatment is always unpredictable.
You may find that the effects of treatment vary from time to time. One treatment may help a lot, the next less or even not at all. Don’t worry too much about this; provided there is a long-term trend towards improvement all is in order.