At Langdon Osteopathy London we often use acupuncture as part of an osteopathic treatment rather than a stand-alone therapy, although we’re happy to do so if appropriate. We’re often asked what is acupuncture & how does it work? The following information is taken from Dr Anthony Campbell’s (who trained David in in Modern Acupuncture in 2009) web-site:
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment that consists in pricking the patient with a special needle. It developed in China about 2,000 years ago. Traditional Chinese acupuncture uses a complicated system of ancient ideas that are not easy for most of us to understand or accept today. However, many modern Western practitioners find that acupuncture can be understood in scientific terms. This makes it easier to use in a Western setting and it is becoming increasingly acceptable here. Many hospitals today offer acupuncture to their patients and the British Medical Acupuncture Society has over 2500 members.
Today, therefore, there are two main forms of acupuncture: traditional and modern.
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.
- Modern acupuncturists do not use traditional diagnostic methods such as the pulse or the appearance of the tongue.
- Many, though not all, modern acupuncturists leave the needles in place for quite a short time: often about two minutes or even less.
- Many, though not all, modern acupuncturists use only a few needles - perhaps four and sometimes only one! Surprising though this may seem, experience shows that doing acupuncture this way is quite as effective as using a lot of needles and leaving them in for longer and is less likely to have unwanted effects.
How does it work?
We cannot yet explain this in detail but we do have some clues.
- In many cases the acupuncturist makes use of "trigger points". These are areas, usually in muscle, that hurt when pressed and cause pain to radiate to other places that may be some distance away from the trigger point. Needling the trigger point can relieve pain in these distant areas, although we do not know exactly how this happens.
- Acupuncture can still work even when there are no trigger points. In such cases it probably acts by changing the ways in which the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) is transmitting information about pain.
- It is important to understand that acupuncture does have measurable effects on the body even though we can't explain them all in detail. You don't have to believe in it for it to work!
Is acupuncture suitable for my condition?
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).
Does it hurt?
Acupuncture is usually not completely 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.)
May I be worse after acupuncture?
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 a mild aggravation every time they have acupuncture. In general, aggravation is followed by an improvement, so it is quite a good sign. But severe pain after acupuncture is not normal; if it happens, tell your acupuncturist.
Do I have to believe in it for it to work?
No; belief doesn't matter. In fact, the best results are often seen in people who didn't expect it to work! Provided you are willing to have the treatment it may work.
What if I'm pregnant?
Acupuncture is generally thought to be safe in pregnancy. If you are pregnant you should tell your acupuncturist in case any modification of treatment is required.
Can acupuncture transmit AIDS or hepatitis?
Responsible acupuncturists always use disposable needles which are thrown away after use. In these circumstances there is no risk of transmission of disease. You should ask about this if you are in any doubt.
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 later.